Hours after U.S. Soccer released its 20 man roster for the U20 World Cup which begins May 30 in New Zealand, Tab Ramos the team’s coach and U.S. Soccer Youth Technical Director, spoke to the media today in refreshingly honest conference call.
The roster released by U.S. Soccer was a player short of the 21 man limit and speculation soon centered on Arsenal midfielder Gedion Zelalem to fill the vacancy. Born in Berlin to Ethiopian parents, Zelalem spent a good chunk of his youth growing up in Maryland and recently declared his intention to play for the United States after receiving his U.S. passport, rather than Germany, whom he has represented at the U15,16 and 17 levels or for his parents homeland.
With the final rosters due on May 15, Ramos made no bones about his intentions for that final roster position, saying, “we’re leaving a little bit of a window,” as the U.S. waits for FIFA to finish the paperwork to allow Zelalem to play for the United States.
Ramos was just as candid in revealing that Philadelphia Union midfielder Zack Pfeffer is on standby should FIFA drag its feet, or indeed rule against allowing Zelalem to play for the U.S.
As is always the way with any selection there were a few surprise omissions, and the coach dealt with those head on. Ramos explained that a drop in form cost Junior Flores and Romain Gall a chance at a trip to New Zealand, while confirming earlier reports that English Championship club Reading had refused to release striker Andrija Novakovich.
Ramos may not have been quite as sanguine about that decision as he let on, but in saying that the Royals, “strongly feel that he (Novakovich) needs a rest,” Ramos was convincing when he maintained that he had no quarrel with the Royals call.
Ramos was clearly not satisfied with the team’s performance in the World Cup Qualifying CONCACAF tournament, making several changes in the midfield and forward lines. The coach also gladly included attacker Rubio Rubin, who was not made available for the qualifiers by his Dutch club Utrecht.
Rubin has been capped by the full national team and may end up playing a role as the U.S. attempts to qualify for next summer’s Rio Olympics at October’s CONCACAF Championships.
Ramos has added several other new offensive players to the team, which he intends to deploy in a 4-4-2, another reveal from today’s conference call. Ramos has always been a proponent of the 4-3-3 system, but like his boss, Jurgen Klinsmann, Ramos has apparently determined that his team is better suited to playing a 4-4-2.
Ramos also admitted that his preferred version of the system is the diamond, so can we expect the U.S. to line out in the diamond in New Zealand? Ramos would not commit saying simply, “we’ll see.”
Ramos has been down this road before in 2013, when he helmed the U.S. at the U20 World Cup in Turkey, where the U.S. earned a single point from a very tough group.
The ping pong balls bounced more kindly for Ramos and his charges this time, with the U.S. drawn into Group A along with New Zealand, Myanmar and Ukraine.
The Americans open against Myanmar on May 30th, a match Ramos has already labelled a must win, then play the host nation on June 2nd, before closing out group play on June 5th versus Ukraine.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Jeff Caldwell (University of Virginia; Todd, N.C.), Ethan Horvath (Molde FK; Highlands Ranch, Colo.), Zack Steffen (Freiburg; Downingtown, Pa.)
DEFENDERS (6): Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur; Westcliff on Sea, England), Matthew Miazga (New York Red Bulls; Clifton, N.J.), Shaquell Moore (Unattached; Powder Springs, Ga.), Erik Palmer-Brown (Sporting Kansas City; Lee’s Summit, Mo.), Desevio Payne (FC Groningen; Greenwood, S.C.), John Requejo (Club Tijuana; Carpinteria, Calif.)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas; Plano, Texas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana; Chula Vista, Calif.), Russell Canouse (Hoffenheim; Lancaster, Pa.), Marco Delgado (Toronto FC; Glendora, Calif.), Emerson Hyndman (Fulham; Dallas, Texas), Joel Soñora (Boca Juniors; Buenos Aires, Argentina)
FORWARDS (5): Jordan Allen (Real Salt Lake; Rochester, N.Y.), Bradford Jamieson IV (LA Galaxy; Los Angeles, Calif.), Rubio Rubin (Utrecht; Beaverton, Ore.), Maki Tall (Red Star; Washington, D.C.), Tommy Thompson (San Jose Earthquakes; Loomis, Calif.)