Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Tab Ramos Interview


(Published in print in the United States – November 2000)

In 1976, a young Tab Ramos left his native Uruguay and brought his developing talent north to the soccer hotbed of Kearny, New Jersey.
Twenty-four years later, Ramos -- who has spent most of his adult life advancing the game in his adopted country -- has closed a chapter in his sporting life.
Ramos announced his retirement from the U.S. national team Friday, expressing a desire to switch his footballing focus.
"This is something that didn't just happen. A lot of thought went into this," Ramos told me during a telephone interview Friday.
"(U.S. coach) Bruce Arena brought me in this year to help the team qualify for the next round of the World Cup, and we've done that. It's a good note to go out on."
Ramos played a full 90 minutes in the midfield Wednesday in the 4-0 U.S. win over Barbados, a result that catapulted the side to the final round of regional qualifying for the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
The 34-year-old Ramos finished his international career with 87 caps and eight goals. He represented the U.S. in three World Cups (1990, 1994 and 1998).
His most significant tally was the game-winner in a 1-0 France '98 qualifying victory over Costa Rica on Sept. 7, 1997 in Portland, Ore.
Ramos, despite his fine current form after recovering from a series of injuries, knows the limitations that come with age.
"It's important to realize when it's time," he said. "You don't want to be the last one to find out."
On that front, Ramos -- who plays for the New York-New Jersey MetroStars of Major League Soccer -- agreed his situation mirrors that of Englishman Alan Shearer, who retired from his national team this summer after scoring two goals in Euro 2000.
"In some ways, it's very similar," Ramos said. "I'm ready to concentrate on club ball and winning a championship with the MetroStars. That's my priority now."
He has also found that some of the soccer passions have given way to paternal ones.
"I want to spend more time with my family," Ramos said. "My son Alex is 5 and he's playing soccer now. I have a 3-year-old daughter (Kristen). I want to be with them as much as possible."
For their part, the MetroStars are glad to have Ramos' full commitment for next season.
"Tab is one of the best players to ever wear the United States jersey," MetroStars general manager Nick Sakiewicz said in a statement Friday. "We are extremely proud to have Tab as a MetroStar and are particularly glad he will be totally focused on helping us win a championship next year."
Ramos has enjoyed a bit of soccer celebrity in a country where those two words don't often go together. Appearances on ABC-TV's "The View" as well as "The Charlie Rose Show" to hawk the sport have added name recognition to the man who holds the distinction of being the first player signed by a then-fledgling MLS.
Chosen among the world's top 100 players by the England-based World Soccer magazine in 1991, Ramos earned a playing stint with Spanish club Real Betis as well as a tour of duty in Mexico's top league.
Ramos, who has battled back from two torn anterior cruciate ligaments, plans to play as long as his body allows.
"I'm really taking it one year at a time now," he said. "Ideally, I'd like to play this year (2001) and the year after that. After that, that's it. I want to do other things. But you never know.
"I think injuries, and my history with them, will determine how the rest of my career continues."
During the week when he hung up his international boots, Ramos also found out -- at a banquet just a few nights ago -- that his New Jersey scholastic record for career goals was under assault from Ocean City's Chad Severs, a senior striker.
(Ramos scored 161 during his years at St. Benedict's Prep in Newark; Severs finished his career with 159 after Ocean City's 0-0 draw with West Morris Central on Friday in the Group III state title game.)
Did he ever think his mark would be approached?
"Absolutely. I'm surprised it's lasted this long," Ramos said. "I've never been what you call a goal scorer; I just happened to have scored a lot of goals in high school.
"If the record isn't broken this year, it may be next year. Hopefully Chad can do his best (Friday). Then he'll be the one receiving telephone calls down the road."
Ramos held a viewpoint on how Severs might have approached Friday's contest.
"He can't play selfishly," he said. "Obviously his first goal is to win the game and for his team to win the championship. If he happens to score three goals, that's great."
Ramos, who was informed Severs has accepted a full athletic scholarship to Penn State, knows the American soccer landscape has changed greatly for players with true ability.
"When I was in high school, the NASL (North American Soccer League) was still around," he said. "I actually got drafted by the Cosmos in my senior year and it was a goal of mine to become a professional from the beginning.
"There was a gap there when a lot of kids didn't have the opportunity. This is good for Chad. He's getting his name out there. A lot of people will hear about it."