Challenges for U-20s at Milk Cup 

July, 16, 2012

Over the past few years, the Milk Cup in Northern Ireland has provided a good mid-cycle measuring stick for the U.S. U-20s. This year, the tournament will be particularly telling, as still relatively new coach Tab Ramos continues to assess and refine his talent pool working towards CONCACAF's U-20 World Cup qualifiers next February.

For this year's edition of the Milk Cup, which kicks off this weekend, Ramos will bring in only a few new players to join a group chosen from dozens viewed thus far in the cycle. So the games in Northern Ireland -- Saturday against Denmark and Monday against Turkey, followed by a third placement game next week -- will help further the evaluation process and provide some feedback on where this group stands among its U-20 peers worldwide.

"I think we have a good group," Ramos told Insider upon returning from a three-game tour of South America earlier this month. "We have skillful players, and obviously it's been a long process so far this year, trying to identify the main group. We've looked at roughly about 75 different players, and I think we have a pretty good idea who the guys are moving forward that we really want to count on."

Getting a good look at a wide range of players is the first step in the U-20 process -- one that typically takes a year or so. As players mature from the mostly amateur U-17 and U-18 levels, the U.S. has a particularly diverse array of areas that need to be scanned for talent, from colleges to top-flight clubs in Mexico and Europe. For Ramos, with six months and counting to qualifiers, that initial work is nearing completion.

For more on the preview of the Milk Cup, including a chat with U-20 coach Tab Ramos, plus to get access to all of Insider's soccer content, you must be an ESPN Insider.

Brent Latham is a soccer commentator who covers the youth national teams for Based in Guatemala, he has attended youth World Cups from Peru to Egypt, and places in between.