United States under-20 coach Tab Ramos doesn’t possess the luxury of picking his squad and waiting for his players to arrive in due course.
Most of the selection protections afforded at the senior level do not apply to youth teams. There are no automatic release mechanisms available most of the time, not even for a tournament that carries the importance of the upcoming CONCACAF U-20 Championship.
With a place in the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup on the line in Puebla, Mexico later this month, Ramos leaned on the relationships cultivated with clubs across Europe and North America to compile the first 18 players for his 20-man roster.
“I don’t think there’s one camp out of the eight camps this year where we were able to get every player we wanted,” Ramos said during a conference call last week. “We’re in the same scenario now. I feel comfortable that the players we have here are the best we could get and the ones that we’ve prepared the most. We’re confident that these guys are going to do a good job.”
Those entreaties yielded the initial mix of college standouts (Georgetown forward Brandon Allen), MLS prospects (defender Shane O’Neill, midfielders Luis Gil, Mikey Lopez and Wil Trapp and forward Jose Villarreal), foreign-based talents (including Southampton goalkeeper Cody Cropper, C.D. Guadalajara defender Juan Pablo Ocegueda and SC Freiburg midfielder Caleb Stanko) named to the roster last Thursday.
Ramos still hopes to supplement this group over the next few days with two more players capable of increasing the side’s chances for success in this tournament. Liverpool midfielder Marc Pelosi features among the potential targets, but his club duties – particularly his recent inclusion in the Reds’ Europa League squad for the knockout stages of that competition – may preclude him from traveling to Mexico.
“Obviously, Marc is a great player,” Ramos said. “Because of that, he has many other opportunities that not all of the other players have. In this case, with his possible Europa League call-up, his release became a little bit more difficult than it otherwise would have been. At this point, I wouldn’t say want to say that this is a closed door, but it is something that we will work on that, at the end of the day, might not make any sense for Marc. We’ll keep working at that for the next couple of days.”
Pelosi’s potential teammates departed for Toluca, Mexico last Thursday to start their final preparations for the tournament. The group will head to Puebla next week ahead group stage games against Haiti (Feb. 18) and Costa Rica (Feb. 22). The results in those matches – assuming the United States finishes in first or second place in the group – will determine the opposition for the crucial quarterfinal against either Canada, Cuba or Nicaragua on Feb. 26.
A victory in the quarterfinals will allow the United States to put aside the unexpected failure to qualify in 2011 and secure one of the four available berths for the World Cup in Turkey in June, but Ramos insists he and his players are focused on the task at hand rather than the possible additions omitted due to club commitments or the reward available for success in the tournament.
“Our first game is Haiti,” Ramos said. “At this point, we’re pretty much focused on just that. We have seen Costa Rica play Canada. I personally flew down to the Caribbean Union tournament to see Haiti play twice. I do have a good report on them. Our only focus right now is Haiti.
"We’re not looking at Costa Rica. We’re not looking at that crossover game or going to the World Cup. It’s just about what Haiti does.”