Ramos optimistic for the Dynamo's future after taking the head coach job
November 27, 2019
ONE OF THE bigger moves this offseason was the announcement that U.S. U-20 head coach Tab Ramos was leaving his post with U.S. Soccer to take the head coaching job at the Houston Dynamo. After four cycles with the U-20 team where he won the CONCACAF title twice and advance to the quarterfinals of the World Cup the last three tournaments.
But now Ramos will be taking over the head coaching gig for a top-flight club for the first time in his career. Much like the U-20 team he took over in 2011, the Dynamo has struggled in recent years. The team has made the playoffs just once since 2013 and its youth pipeline has not produced much talent either for the first team or U.S. youth national teams.
ASN’s Brian Sciaretta spoke with Ramos about his decision to take this job and what he wants to accomplish in the short and long-term future.
Brian Sciaretta for ASN: Congratulations on taking the job. I know it is a big challenge but how have the first steps been for you in terms of taking over the team?
TAB RAMOS: I mean, obviously, like every other coach, I am trying to build a team and seeing what options we're going to pick up, what trades we can make, trying to deal with the expansion draft and really all the rules of MLS that I'm not familiar with.
ASN: What is your broad philosophy in terms of the direction you want to take this club?
RAMOS: Initially, the important part is to have a good team. Are there some things that we'd like to fix? Yeah, of course. But anything that refers to youth always takes time and so that that can never be the first thing on your plate. Right now, we're trying to build a roster for next year. On the youth side, I have already met with all of the academy coaches. I've met with the academy director. I've been informed as to how we run the academy here and all the affiliate clubs that we have in the different areas where we run the Houston Dynamo Academy. So, I'm very familiar with that. But that always requires time because you can't jump in and say, OK, because I'm here now, we automatically move players up. I mean, at the end of the day, I want to have young players on the first team, but the young players on the first team have to earn their spot on the first team. It doesn't just happen because I'm here. We need to be developing the talent but that takes time.
ASN: Was the long-term development vision you have one of the reasons why you brought in Omid Namazi as an assistant given his background with U.S. youth teams?
RAMOS: Well, we're all working together with that. Omid Is a key part of everything we do here. And he's in the middle of all those things. But like I mentioned before, the number one priority at this point is the first team.
ASN: The Dynamo has struggled in recent years. How far away do you think it is from being able to compete at a high level within the Western Conference? Do you believe a lot of changes need to be made?
RAMOS: Well, the league is much different now than it was 12, 13 years ago. Obviously, there are teams at the top of the league that are spending a lot to be at the top of the league. We're not necessarily one of those clubs. We have to do it in a different way. Having said that, I believe in the talent that we have here. And that's one of the reasons I wanted to be here, because I think we have the type of player that can play, the type of style that I like to play. And I think it's a style that can be successful in MLS.
ASN: Can you describe that style? Is that the same style as your recent U-20 teams?
RAMOS: I think the philosophy for me is not going to change from where I've been. It's sort of a proactive, high pressing team. That's what I like to do. That's the way I'd like the team to play. And there's going be an adjustment to that. And there's going to be players that hopefully, - I'm not looking to make many changes here as soon as I land because I believe in the players who are here. But at some point, we're going to have to see who is adapting to the way we want to play and who is not. That's something that we still have to measure. But in terms of sacrificing what we want to do - there may be some sacrifice in the short term, but certainly the goal in the long term is to have that happy team that's constantly attacking and that is high pressure.
ASN: You were you were the first player to sign for the league. Coming back to the league in this capacity, what is your takeaways here, just how difficult and how drastic these changes are over the two and a half decades? And did you think it was possible when you when you first put your into paper way back then?
RAMOS: I think the league right now is at a point that's way beyond any dream I would have had back in 1995, 1996. The league, as you know, the fact that it's expanding now, the ownerships of all the all the teams are committed to spending money on youth development. It means to me that everybody is in it for the long term. And I think that's a really positive sign. The league has come along really fast. And I'm just happy to be part of it again.
ASN: How did how did coaching the U-20 team, prepare you for this? What lessons did you take away from your tenure there and how did it help you evolve as a coach? After covering your four U-20 World Cups, there was a difference between the 2013 style and the 2019 style.
RAMOS: You always learn as a coach. I think I will always continue to learn as a coach. But I think one of the things that was really important to me when I first took over the U-20 national team, I was a lot more conservative. And I felt like it was really important not to lose some games. As the time went on, I started to become more, say, daring. I put the emphasis on players feeling comfortable on the field and being able to get the most out of whatever they had because they were happy playing in a certain place, or in a certain way, or having the ball. And I put the emphasis on the player, on making sure that they're in the right situation to be the best they can be. And I think that worked. I think the players have been happy playing the way we played. When you look back at the last CONCACAF, pretty much a year ago this week, we outscored teams 46-2. We went 8-0. CONCACAF was not even competitive for our U-20 team last time. So I think that the evolution was there. I think that the progress is there. And I'm really happy with that, with the work that I did with the national teams.
ASN: Omid is not your only assistant so far. You also brought in Pablo Mastroeni. Obviously, he brings some experience there with coaching first team soccer. How did bringing him into the team come to fruition?
RAMOS: I'm really lucky to have Pablo. I know a lot of people have reached out to me to come on board. And there are a lot of people I know throughout the country, a lot of former players. And I actually reached out to Pablo myself because I felt like he would be a good complemen to Omid and I in the way we think about the game. He also has had experience as a head coach in MLS, which helps. And I think he's refreshed and he's ready to get back into the game. So I felt like we have a staff that's really anxious to do a lot of work and Pablo really compliments all of that. So I'm really happy to have him here. And he definitely makes us better.
ASN: I know this isn't in your scope as the head coach, but how big of a challenge is it for you to get people back into the stadium in Houston, increase attendance, create buzz in the city, and engage with the community? It's such a big city, but how do you get this team relevant in that market. Does that simply come with better on-field performances? Is it realistic to be able to fill that stadium or come close to it on a regular basis?
RAMOS: It's a massive city. There's so much potential here for the future that I'm really excited about that. You know, personally, all I can focus on is to have the best team possible and to try to win games and to help the club as much as I can by getting out in the community. And I will do that with the players as well. I want to make sure that they are part of the community and that we can help from our end as much as we can. But at the end of the day, obviously, our number one priority is to win games.
ASN: And then in terms of winning, do you think a return to the playoffs is realistic for next year?
RAMOS: That's our goal. If you start talking about reality and what is realistic - if I had gone by way of what's realistic in the last eight years of coaching, we likely would have been stuck in the same place we were in 2011 before I took over. And so nothing is off the table here. The initial goal for next year is to be in the playoffs and I think we'll accomplish that.
ASN: I know you met with the academy staff there, too. What were your initial impressions there and how happy were you with that setup as it is right now in terms of its progress? In terms of its ability to develop players at that point in the youth pipeline?
RAMOS: I like the staff that we have for the academy. I like the changes that have already been made in the last eight months here - in how much more they are in tune with the Houston community, because that was something that had lacked in the past. But a lot of those changes have already been made. And I think hopefully I can help make some more down the road that will help us scout and bring in every single one of the best players in the Houston area.
ASN: Is one of the reasons why you took this job because of the city, its demographics, and its size? It has underachieved in recent years in terms of performance and development but does that create more of an opportunity for you to make a difference?
RAMOS: I think a couple of the reasons are because, number one, I like the players that have been here and the players that we currently have, and the type of player that was already part of what they wanted to do here and the way they wanted to play. That was one. Second, it was the people that work at the club. I think we have great people working at the club and we're all working together towards making all the decisions. That was really important to me. And then the last part was that Houston, knowing from the sort of the Latino community and from having worked at Telemundo in the World Cup last year, I know how important a market this is - both on the Latino side and on the English side. I think the potential here is huge for down the road and that's really attractive as well.