The 2024 Copa America is almost upon us, the 16-team competition will be played in 14 venues across the United States and the expectations for Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT is through the roof.

Many pundits have suggested that it is the only real true test the national team will have before the World Cup in 2026. Having a good showing is extremely important to build confidence and momentum towards the World Cup.

Tab Ramos played in two vastly different Copa Americas for the USMNT, in both cases they were unique experiences for the Uruguayan born midfielder some consider to be one of the most talented Americans of all-time.

USMNT expectations in 2024

Bolavip: What are the USMNT’s expectations for the Copa America considering we kind of now know the path forward for the team?

Tab Ramos: I think certainly there are no easy groups, if you look in general in the USMNT’s group you see Uruguay, obviously you can say the best team in the group, they will be one of the big favorites to win the tournament. It’s a tough game but one our national team needs to play.

Then you look at Panama and Bolivia, Bolivia is not having a good moment right now, they’ll have a tough time, but Panama is probably in the best moment they have been in, in a long, long time. I think Panama won’t be an easy game for everyone in the group, it will be tough for Uruguay and tough for the US.

Having said that I think the US has to have the expectations to get out of that group, and then move on to play either Brazil or Colombia as first or second of the other group, because we have known from Uruguay in the past, they get off to slow starts in the early rounds.

Getting Colombia or Brazil will be a huge test, and it will test the character of the team that we have, and I have said this before, I played in a Copa America where we came in 4th, I also helped coach in a Copa America where we also reached 4th, there not easy, and at times expectations can’t be that high, but I think with this group unfortunately they have to be that high. I think anything less than making it to the semifinals is falling short of where we want to be.

This tournament will require us to upset teams and if you go back 30 years ago, we were doing just that, we were beating Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Portugal, we were winning these games. At some point you have to start winning games you’re not supposed to win, and I think this summer am looking for our national team to do just that.

BV: If the USMNT makes it out of their group and then loses to Brazil, but shows very well in that game, is it a failure? What am trying to say is does the style of the team have a major influence as to what comes next?

TR: It’s a fair question, I think it does matter what it looks like. I think if the US can beat Uruguay in the first round and get to a second-round game and draw a Brazil that somehow fall into second, and you lose 2-1 on a last-minute goal, of course that always makes a difference.

My point before was that at some point you have to get results. At the World Cup in Qatar, we didn’t hurt ourselves, we played a very good game against England, controlled much of the game against Wales, and we needed a result which we got against Iran. Then yes, the Netherlands manhandled us a bit, but you can take a look at the 2022 World Cup, and you don’t come away with, “We can’t accept that”, but then again you don’t say “This is the best it’s ever been”, it was a World Cup like any other World Cup that we ever had.

Will it matter the way we play? Of course, because this is a national team that we all feel can play a back and forth game, physically, it’s the best we have ever had, we never had players like a Jermaine Jones who could play on any team, and I think we do have that now.

But in the end, we need someone to say “okay, we have done okay, but now we need better than okay” and because of that I would say we need to see more (from the national team).

Looking back at the 1993 and 1995 Copa America

BV: You played in two Copa Americas in your national team career, please explain what it’s like to play in such a prestigious competition?

TR: I think what makes Copa America special is that it feels like a World Cup, you are playing quality opponents, in particular my generation because we played the Copa America away from home.

(In 1993 the USMNT played in Ecuador and in 1995 in Uruguay)

They really do feel like the kind of games we are not used to playing, and they are very difficult. South American teams are some of the best teams in the world and to meet up with them is a great opportunity.

In 2016 it was a little different, but it did have a World Cup feeling, going to the stadiums, most of the stadiums were full, Messi scored a great goal against us in that one, and we came in 4th.

I think the feeling for newer fans not used to seeing a Copa America, it’s basically a World Cup preview.

BV: In the first Copa America you played in it was held in Ecuador in 1993, three years before MLS and one year before even the 94 World Cup. The US was drawn with Ecuador, Uruguay, Venezuela, how was it like for you and Fernando Clavijo to play a game against Uruguay?

TR: I think TV was still black and white a back then (laughs), what I do remember about that team is that we had a mixed squad some guys choose not to go, some of the guys in Europe decided not to go. I was at Real Betis at the time, but many of the European players were very tired from a long season in Europe and needed a big break.

We usually had our seasons abroad and then in the summer played a whole bunch of national team games. For me it was more special going to South America, and I decided am going to play in Copa America no matter what, I had been watching the tournament since I was little.

For me to participate in it even once was a great honor. I remember we didn’t have the best team for that tournament, we played Uruguay in Ambato, we lost 1-0, then we went to Quito and played Ecuador and lost 2-0. They had a great team back then and played in the altitude.

Then against Venezuela and we were winning 3-0 that game and ended up tied 3-3.

BV: It was one of the first tournaments the US did play in the altitude, did the team prepare for those conditions?

TR: I don’t think we prepared for the tournament like we would have for a qualifier in Mexico City for example. I think we selected a team; Bora (Milutinović) picked a team, and we went.

BV: To play against Uruguay, the country of your birth, what were you thinking, what were you feeling?

TR: In the U-20 World Cup that I played, my first game was against Uruguay, so I had played a major game against them before that, but it was my first game against them at the senior level.

It was weird for me, playing against Uruguay always felt strange, I came to the US when I was 12, and my family follows the Uruguayan culture, we follow the teams there, as you know am a Nacional fan, and I follow what’s happening over there.

When you grow up as a kid in Uruguay by the time your 12, you finish your Baby Football, and you want to be a pro player and you want to play for the national team. Strange in a way but life throws these curve balls, I think I played as hard as I could and tried to win the game, but it was strange, like anytime I see the Uruguayan national team light blue uniform.

BV: Two years later it comes full circle. You return to Uruguay for the 95 Copa America, one year removed from the 94 World Cup and the amazing run by the USMNT. What was your mindset going into that tournament?

TR: I remember for me I felt it was a really important tournament, unfortunately I had been injured before the tournament, and I was not 100%, I don’t remember if I started every game.

It was a tough tournament and by this time to be fair we went with a good team, and to be fair we were a good team.

(Most of the players were all playing in Europe at the time)

We had already beaten some big national teams in the last two years, and it was a challenge to go from the summer in the US to the winter of South America, the fields were very wet, and it wasn’t easy.

We had a great run, we split our first two games against Chile and Bolivia, and then we needed a result against Argentina to advance and at half time we were winning 2-0 and I said to the coach and the guys in the lockerroom, if we score one more, we win the group.

Of course, things ended up 3-0, but Argentina had a great team and even though they played a mixed side they could have easily come back. We knew they would come hard on us but with that extra goal we got to take first in the group.

Next thing you know Argentina were knocked out by Brazil in the second round, we defeated Mexico, and we would eventually lose to Brazil only 1-0 in Maldonado and eventually finished 4th.

BV: The results of the 95 Copa America was truly a showcase that 1994 and US Soccer’s rise was no fluke wasn’t it, was the game against Argentina the best 90 minutes in US Soccer history?

TR: It’s hard to disagree with that, because of the magnitude of the game, but let’s not forget Argentina did not start many of their first team, but yet they were playing right across from Argentina, so it should have been a home game for them. Still, the Uruguayans were cheering for us!

It was mostly a home game for them in a tournament they wanted to win, so it was a huge result, maybe other than the US beating Spain in 2009 in the Confederations Cup, because where Spain was at that time, other than that result I don’t think there has been a bigger result ever than that one.

BV: The game was played in the small town of Paysandú, what was it like playing such a major game in a town that the infrastructure wasn’t there for a tournament and game of that magnitude?

TR: Look all am going to say, am from Uruguay and I Iove Uruguay, but I will say this, for countries to host a tournament like this they make a huge effort and at times they don’t have the resources, but I think as players you have to admire the effort the people are making, and I think what was most important for us was the way we were treated while we were there.

The people treated us great, the hotel made great food for us all the time, we tried to stay warm as much as we could, the heating over there wasn’t the best, but all those little things ended up not being important, what was important was we played in a city that loved the teams that were there, and welcomed the teams that were there, and you can tell they love football.

They were just happy to have us there.

BV: After the 1995 Copa America the next big step was the creation of MLS in 1996, how important was it to carry momentum from 1994, 1995 all the way to 1996 were a new league kicked off?

TR: It was always in the back of our minds, I know as players we had discussions about this stuff, I had already committed to MLS at the time. It was a big tournament, we wanted to show that we continued to make progress, a lot of guys in my generation that started qualifying the team in 1989 all we did was get better as the years went on.

We started getting big, big results, there was progress from year to year and we wanted to keep that progress going and this Copa America in 1995 showed that yes we were improving.