It's been a whirlwind first few months in charge of the American under-20 team for Tab Ramos. Named permanent coach in the spring, the former U.S. national team star has twice led his young troops to South America and Europe as he tries to find the right mix to get the U.S. qualified for the 2013 U-20 World Cup after missing out last year.
Ramos was an assistant coach for Thomas Rongen on the team that came up short in regional qualifiers last year. The man some consider the best American player ever is now setting his sights on making sure that nightmare scenario isn't repeated at next year's qualifiers for Turkey 2013, scheduled for late February and early March, in Puebla, Mexico.
In making sure the U.S. gets back to the U-20 World Cup, Ramos is still coming to terms with a large and geographically diverse player pool -- many of whom the coach knows won't be available in February for qualifiers. The U.S. U-20s have more than a dozen players on club teams abroad, and Ramos can be relatively sure that the likes of Sean Cunningham, John Brooks and Will Packwood won't be released for those non-FIFA match days in the spring.
It was just those kinds of absences that took the 2011 team by surprise, leaving Rongen's squad shorthanded headed into a one-off quarterfinal elimination match in Guatemala. As a result, Ramos has made a goal of expanding his pool and calling on more players based in the U.S. and Mexico -- leagues certain to be more flexible in terms of lending out their youth players for a regional championship.
Here's a look at Ramos' plan to integrate the squad and a projected roster for next year's qualifiers, including North American-based players in the mix.