ANDY SCHREUR - Monday, September 15, 2014
The US U-20 squad gathered in Argentina for a 10 day camp starting last week in one of their last tune-ups before January's CONCACAF qualifiers in Jamaica ahead of 2015 U-20 World Cup in New Zealand.
Head Coach Tab Ramos took some time to speak with YA about the camp, players and U-20 strategy earlier this week.
The trip featured three matches, which saw the U-20 squad beat the Racing Club Reserves 2-0, Defensa y Justicia 3-2 and a 1-1 draw with the Argentina U-20 team.
"We're at a moment now where are probably in the last camp where we try to expand the pool and look at some new guys and start narrowing it down to the guys who will be eligible to play in the World Cup Qualifiers in January," Ramos told YA earlier this week.
Part of the story every U-20 camp is the availability of players. In this camp, FC Utrecht refused to release Rubio Rubin for Ramos' camp in Argentina.
"They (Utrecht) told us that as a youngster it wouldn't be good for him to travel that far and that they weren't going to release him. That's something we have to deal with anyway because chances are, they won't release him for the January qualifiers either. Rubio is one of the best young players we have in the entire program, just because there are very few things he can't do, he pretty much does everything right and sometimes the U-20 National Team becomes a little bit secondary. The important thing for us, from a program standpoint, is that Rubio has a good pathway to our first team down the road. At the end, that is the most important thing and as long as we're getting that, that's really what matters."
The three-time World Cup veteran also stressed the importance of the guys who will be available and tries not to worry about the players who are unable to make it. YA asked him if it's frustrating when players aren't released into camp.
"To be honest, it's not frustrating," admitted Ramos. "I was involved with Thomas Rongen for a few cycles and kind of saw what this was about. There has never been a camp where we've had absolutely everyone we wanted for that particular camp. So I just try as hard as I can, I try every single camp to get the best available players and I meet with clubs and I tell them how we work and that we take care of the players and how we train."
One player that figures on being a big part of the US system in the next few years includes Hoffenheim midfielder and Camp Captain Russell Canouse. Ramos also stated he's preparing to speak to the club about a January release.
"Russell is playing great. He's been the captain on the last trip and this one. Obviously I name a captain that the guys trust a lot. He's contributed to this group and he's a very good player. After this camp is over, we'll put together a schedule before we meet in November and me maybe going and meeting with his club to see what the reality of him being released for three weeks in January. And, if that's not a reality with us, we have to start working, at least, to prepare for the qualifiers."
Ramos stated that another European based player is in fine form as well, Borussia Dortmund's Junior Flores.
"Junior is playing well, he's fit. I think this is the best I've seen Junior play in a couple of years. It's been a difficult road for the last couple of years, but I think he's back at a good level now and I really like what I see from him."
Another player who was called into this camp is Boca Juniors midfielder Joel Sonora, who formerly played in the U-17 CONCACAF Championships several years ago. He was invited to the U-20 camp in January and Ramos was impressed with what we saw in this camp.
"He (Sonora) looks very good. He's been working hard on both sides of the ball. He's an offensive player and plays more comfortably in a '10' type of role but he's shown on this trip that he's willing to do the work defensively as well. That puts him in this group as a real competitor to be part of this team. I like him and he's done really well."
Ramos faces a difficult test to figure out the best players to bring into January's team, assuming some clubs will not allow their young, talented players to leave for three weeks in the heart of the European season. Meshing US (MLS and college) and Mexico based players might be the key to a solid run to the 2015 World Cup in New Zealand.
The U-20 squad will reconvene in November before Ramos finalizes his roster for the January qualifiers in Jamaica.