Preseason for the Houston Dynamo kicks off in just a few days, and it will be the opportunity for head coach Tab Ramos to work with his new charges. Just as he’ll expect his players to come into camp in playing shape, Ramos wanted to make sure he and his staff are ready to hit the ground running Monday morning.
To get the staff ready, Ramos worked with Dynamo Academy director Paul Holocher to arrange a joint training session with the Academy Under-17 and Under-19 teams earlier this week. Not only did it provide the former U.S. U-20 boss an opportunity to see and scout the Academy players up close, there was also a practical aspect to the session.
For a coach used to working with the relatively small number of players called into a national team camp, working with more than 35 players on an MLS preseason roster poses some logistical challenges, which Ramos and his coaches were able work through with the Academy players.
“There’s a reason we had 37 players today because that’s likely the number we’ll have (at the start of preseason) next week so we were trying to work out the spacing for the sessions,” Ramos said.
However, the long-term benefit of working with the Academy players was definitely not lost on Ramos and his coaches.
“I was really excited to see the type of talent we have out here firsthand in a training session,” Ramos said. “It’s a good opportunity for them to see the carrot of being on the first field where the First Team is going to start training next week and it keeps them connected to who we are, because at the end of the day we’re trying to build one club where the best 11 are representing all age groups.”
The chance to impress the First Team manager was something that the players certainly recognized and were excited to take advantage of. Danny Rios, a forward who has played for both the U-17 and U-19 teams this season, said that sessions like these make becoming a Dynamo player feel more attainable.
“It’s a great opportunity and we realize how much closer the First Team is with us now,” Rios said. “We realize that they’ll be at our games and it’s more important for us to concentrate now that there’s eyes looking at us now. Everything we do counts now.”
Rios said that beyond just the players on the field in the session, days like this give all of the Academy players added motivation.
“It shows how serious they are about bringing youth to the First Team. (Ramos) chose to practice with us instead of rounding up first team players. It shows how he wants to bring in the youth. It makes us more dedicated to pursuing the dream.”
Goalkeeper Logan Erb, another U-17 Academy standout, got the opportunity to work not only with Ramos, but with First Team goalkeeper coach Paul Rogers and said: “I love it. It’s a lot harder and more challenging, but I love it,” Erb said. “It’s great to get different insight, perspective and building styles that they want us to learn.”
Erb said that the challenge of meeting the expectations from the First Team staff can only make him and his teammates better.
“Competition helps you get there, and you build that here,” he said. “You build that against the First Team when you’re training and you see it everywhere.”
While Ramos’ background with the youth national teams has been widely talked about by fans and media, he was quick to point out that while the opportunity is there for the taking, it’s ultimately up to the players to seize it.
“The most important aspect for them is that they gather hear me letting them know that if they do well they have every opportunity to go to the First Team but it has to be earned, nothing will be given,” Ramos said. “We could end up with ten youth players on the first team this year, or it could be zero, but that’s all up to them.”