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.