NEW YORK — If he was allowed a 25-man roster, Tab Ramos might feel a bit differently. But being limited to a 21-man squad for the FIFA U-20 World Cup meant tough decisions for the U.S. Under-20 head coach.
The positive side is the raised level among the pool of available players. It is never higher than it is now, according to Ramos, who spoke with reporters in a roundtable discussion in lower Manhattan Friday morning. The negative, of course, means some very good players are not going to Poland this summer.
“Players are becoming more and more competitive, and players are now fighting for time on their first teams, which is, I think, a great place to be and where we want it to be,” Ramos said. “This particular roster for me was really difficult because I think there’s no question that there’s three or four guys who also deserve to go who are not going.”
Ramos insisted it’s not a case of not believing in the players who missed out on a spot. It’s strictly “a numbers game.”
“I do trust there are guys who are not going to the World Cup who I think will be great players for a long time,” Ramos said.
One of the toughest calls, he said, was leaving off Jonathan Amon and Frankie Amaya.
Amon, a left winger for FC Nordsjælland in the Danish SuperLiga, was called up for Ramos’ training camp in January 2018 and made his senior national team debut in a friendly against Peru in November.
Amon, who competed in the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup, is a regular at FC Nordsjælland, which was hesitant to release him.
“I had a really tough time with Jonathan not being selected and with Frankie Amaya not being not being selected,” Ramos said. “I could bring in those two guys and take two other guys out. And I think we would, for the most part, be the the same team.”
Unfortunately, the 18-year-old, who was the No. 1 overall selection in the MLS SuperDraft, has been limited to just 14 previous minutes this season with the expansion side and was loaned to Orange County SC last month to get him minutes.
“That’s the player that I trust. He’s such a great player, he’s so easy on the ball. There’s such few of those, in the league in general and in particular Americans,” Ramos said of Amaya’s play against the Earthquakes. “It made things a lot more difficult because I really wasn’t sure where Frankie was going in the first two months of the season. And that sort of made me a little bit biased towards someone else that had been playing.”
Ramos said Julian Araujo was also given strong consideration, especially since right back is a spot where his team is lacking depth after Sergino Dest. But the 17-year-old, who impressed in a pair of starts for the LA Galaxy, suffered a foot injury during his second start of the season against Minnesota United on April 24.
“I think Julian was a strong consideration, because in theory, when you look at the right back position where [Sergino] Dest is, there’s a possibility that if there’s an injury there, that’s the one position, probably out of the whole field, in which we have the weakest spot,” Ramos said.
New York City FC’s James Sands, who along with Paxton Pomykal has been arguably the most consistent young U.S. player in Major League Soccer this year, was less of a consideration, Ramos said, because of the makeup of the team.
Sands started the season as a No. 6, a spot Ramos has filled with D.C. United’s Chris Durkin and the FC Dallas duo of Edwin Cerrillo and Brandon Servania, who Ramos praised for his play during Concacaf qualification. With Dome Torrent’s formation change, Sands has featured as one of three center backs, but Ramos likes what he has in that position.
“We have two center backs that we selected, plus Matt Real, who could potentially be a left-sided center back and you played against France and left-sided center back,” Ramos said. “I feel like if you can do well in France you can pretty much do against anyone.”
The two other biggest names not part of this roster are forward Josh Sargent and midfielder Tyler Adams. Sargent was part of Ramos’ initial 50-man preliminary roster, while Adams was not.
Both have essentially graduated on to the USMNT and will likely be part of Gregg Berhalter’s squad at this summer’s Concacaf Gold Cup.
“Gregg believes that Tyler has moved on from here. Obviously he plays in the Bundesliga and he’s doing great there. And so Tyler wasn’t even on the 50-man roster. So he’s not an option like a last minute,” Ramos said. “Josh Sergeant at the time, we weren’t 100% sure, because of the playing time situation. So I did put him on the 50-man roster. But I think it’s clear that he’s going to go into this summer with the senior national team. So it’s probably best that that he continues to move in that direction.”