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GIASE: Many happy returns as Tab Ramos is honored at Red Bull Arena

It wasn’t quite the welcome home Tab Ramos expected when he arrived to play with the MetroStars in 1996.
 
Coming in for the third game of the inaugural season following the end of his loan to Mexican club Tigres, he had one day to train with the MetroStars before playing in his first game.
 
Oh, and his car was stolen from the team’s hotel parking lot.
 
“It was an Acura NSX,” Ramos recalled. “They found it a few days later in Newark. Somebody raced it for a while and left it.”
 
Hey, we said it was New Jersey, right?
 
“I think I arrived on a Thursday, we had practice on Friday and a game on Saturday,” Ramos said. “I kind of just met the team, we had a practice at Pingry, we had to drive about 45 minutes, then we stayed at a hotel in Secaucus and my car got stolen that night and then I played the next day, so that week was a little hectic.”
 
Today, Ramos is a busy man. He is the Youth Technical Director for the United States Soccer Federation, assists Jurgen Klinsmann with the men’s national team, and was the U.S. Under-20 coach at the Under-20 World Cup in June. That team, which included Red Bulls defender Matt Miazga, lost in the quarterfinals on penalty kicks to Serbia, the eventual champion.
 
On Sunday, prior to the Red Bulls’ 3-0 victory over D.C. United, Ramos was honored as one of the 20 best players in franchise history.
 
“I obviously travel a lot, but when I’m home I come to the Red Bulls games,” Ramos said. “I’m always here, and every time I come I can’t believe it. Every single time for the last however many years, I can’t believe this. Three blocks away is the closed-down plastics factory where my mother worked. I lived on Sussex Street, it’s literally five blocks from here, then I lived on Harrison Avenue. I used to ride my bike around here. This used to be gas tanks, it’s like an oasis to have this here, especially if you grew up in this area.
 
“On top of that, I can’t believe soccer has gotten like this. Everything is so professional. I can tell you one thing, there’s no feeling of jealousy, there’s no feelings of ‘I wish I could be playing now.’ There’s just pride that I was part of what it took to get here. Of all the fights we had with the MetroStars, or with the fields, or with Kean College, all those things, it required all that to get here. Although we fought so much to get all this stuff, I have to tell you I would never have imagined in my wildest dreams the league would be at the point where it is today.”
 
For those who could use a history lesson in the early years of Major League Soccer, Ramos was the first player ever signed by the league. But it wasn’t easy.
 
“I was in Spain, it was after my (1994) World Cup injury that I took to the head,” he said. “I had been at (Real) Betis. I was on the third of a four-year contract with Betis at the time and I hadn’t been playing for four months because of my head, and the new coach at Betis wasn’t very supportive of me coming back in, so I asked to leave.
 
“At the time I asked to leave I had a couple of different options. One was to go to Switzerland and the other was to go to Tigres in Mexico. Then Sunil (Gulati) kind of jumped in and said ‘Hey, I heard you wanted to leave. We were thinking of starting a league. What do you think? Do you want to be the first person to sign? We think that will help maybe convince other American players to sign with the league’, and I said ‘Yeah, of course, as long as I can play in New Jersey I’m coming back, but otherwise, not really.’
 
“So U.S. Soccer got in the middle of that. U.S. Soccer ended up taking over my contract and loaning me to Tigres for a year and a half, two years, so I played at Tigres for that period of time. When the league was ready to start, I came home.”
 
But nothing was easy from the start. Remember, these were the early days of the MetroStars.
 
“We were in the playoffs with Tigres,” Ramos said. “We were in the semifinals so I had to finish off the season before I came. So although I was the first person to sign, I came here in the third game, and I think the guys who were in the first (team) picture, I didn’t even meet half those guys. We had already traded or dropped those guys. That was those days.”
 
Still, playing professionally in New Jersey and playing in Giants Stadium, where the legendary Cosmos had played, was more important than how MLS was run or the state of the team.
 
“At the time you didn’t really think of it as a first-division team,” he said. “It was soccer at home more than anything. For me it was a big deal, basically because we were playing at Giants Stadium. I had been drafted by the Cosmos out of high school and I thought ‘Hey, I’m going to be playing for the Cosmos.’ But they folded and I ended up going to college, but it had been in the back of my mind, so be able to play at Giants Stadium, when that opportunity came along, I wanted to jump on it, and I was very excited to come.”
 
He says he never contemplated going anywhere else. In seven years with the MetroStars, between injuries and international call-ups, Ramos played in 112 games, scored eight goals and had 36 assists. He was also the first player to score a goal in an MLS All-Star Game, which was played in Giants Stadium that first season, and he added eight goals in 81 games for the U.S. national game, while playing in three World Cups.
 
Having coached the Under-20 team, Ramos, 48, is encouraged by the talent in the U.S. pipeline, and he expects more success at the youth level in years to come.
 
“I was very happy for that team because I knew we had enough talent to compete,” he said. “I told the boys, ‘Look, I want you to know that we’re here to win the World Cup, we’re not here to play. And it may just require one game at a time. All we need to do is win this game. You don’t have to worry about the next six games, you only have to worry about this game,’ and so I felt that we had the talent to, at any given time as I told the players during our run, at any given time any team can be beat. We just have to be that team. And I think we can do it.
 
“Unfortunately, we ran into some cards and suspensions during the tournament, but when we had our best team on the field we didn’t even give up a goal, and I think that’s significant for a U.S. team. I was very proud of that team and the strides they took. Being so close to being in the semifinals and finals we can always think what if, but at the same time maybe we’re not ready for that yet. Maybe we need to be hungry for the next time.
 
“We have a lot of talent, and I would tell you that at certain age groups we have as much talent as any other country. Where we run into a little bit of an issue is that maybe our players aren’t competing as much as players have to compete overseas. Mentally, we don’t have that killer mentality when we’re playing a team. We don’t have that put-the-foot-on-the-throat of a team when you have them. We just don’t have that killer instinct yet, and I think we have to develop that.”
 
For now, he says, he is happy in his role with the federation and to get to Red Bull Arena when he can and root for his former club, his hometown team.
 
“This is beyond any dream I ever had,” he said about the Arena. “My dream was to play at Met Life and we had a professional team that people supported. That was the goal 20 years ago. The fact that all MLS teams now have their own stadiums, at least most of them, not our New York rival, is something that we couldn’t have pictured before, so to see this place. … This truly is an oasis for me.”

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