PEELER: Tab Ramos, NC State's Soccer Superstar
July 7, 2010
BY TIM PEELER
RALEIGH, N.C. -When former NC State soccer All-America Tab Ramos walked onto the field at Rome's Olympic Stadium on June 14, 1990, he only thought he knew the overwhelming importance of what he was about to do.
In reality, though, none of the members of the first United States team to qualify for the World Cup in 40 years knew what their presence in that event would mean to their sport in America. The appearance did not begin well; Czechoslovakia humiliated the Americans 5-1 in their first appearance since 1950.
"We were a bunch of college kids, playing for the World Cup against some of the world's superstars," Ramos remembered. "It was the first little step for U.S. soccer. We were barely even competitive with that team."
But, in its second game, the U.S. team had a good showing against home-standing Italy in front of 73,423 wildly partisan spectators, losing by a narrow 1-0 margin. The game was competitive, for sure.
A few days later Ramos and his teammates lost against, 2-1, to Austria, finishing that initial appearance with a 0-3 record in pool play. Significantly, however, the U.S. has qualified for every World Cup since then.
"Now, I think, the U.S. always has a very competitive team and our goals are very different than just competing," said Ramos, who played for three consecutive World Cup teams (1990, 1994, 1998). "I think the generation of players I was with does take some responsibility for that.
"Now, the U.S. is like every other team - we are looking to get the right bounces and right breaks. Our goal is winning, like everyone else. But you have to get the right matchup, the right breaks. They didn't always fall for us this time around, but next time they could."
This year's U.S. team got a few good and bad breaks in its draws with England and Slovenia and its win over Algeria to finish at the top of Group C and advance to the round of 16 in the 19th FIFA World Cup, played this time around in South Africa. It marked the first time the U.S. has ever won its group during the group play stage.
But soccer has always been a sport that has an extremely narrow margin of error, especially against evenly matched teams. That was emphasized yet again by the disappointment over the American's 2-1 loss to Ghana in the knockout stages for the right to advance to the quarterfinals. But, in Ramos' eyes, the progress has been amazing since his World Cup debut 20 years ago.
"When we play other countries, whether it is Brazil or Germany or whoever, they have to be at the top of their game to beat the United States," Ramos said. "Before, they could come with their B game and win. That is no longer the case."
Ramos - like his 1990 teammates Tony Meola, John Harkes and Eric Wynalda - is among the first generation of American superstars in the world's most popular sport.
Though of slight build - he played at 5-7, 140 pounds - Ramos was a prominent leader on every team he played for, which included the 1988 Olympics when he was just 19 years old.
"Tab Ramos was ahead of his time," Alexi Lalas once said of his former teammate. "His first step was the stuff of legends. His touch was delicate and poetic and the power he generated from such a small frame was nuclear."
" alt="" />The three-time All-American at NC State had a fabulous career, playing on first-division teams in Spain and Mexico. He was also the first player to sign with Major League Soccer draft in 1996, joining the then-New Jersey/New York MetroStars. He played in his final World Cup in 1998 and retired after 13 professional seasons in 2002.
"Without question, Tab Ramos is one of the people who made the U.S. Soccer program recognized nationally," said George Tarantini, who took over as the Wolfpack's head coach following Ramos' sophomore season. "The biggest accomplishment in soccer is making the World Cup team, something he did not once but three times.
"If you think about the people who made soccer what it is today in the United States, Tab Ramos is one of the most influential players in the last 25 years."
In 2005, Ramos was elected into the National Soccer Hall of Fame on his first ballot, an honor he cherishes along with his 81 international caps, his eight goals for the U.S. national team and his legacy as one of the most skillful players of his generation.
He still lives in New Jersey, not far from his adopted hometown of Harrison, where he grew up after his family emigrated from Uruguay when he was 11 years old. His state scoring record - 161 goals in four varsity seasons - is still intact, more than a quarter century after his playing career at St. Benedict's Prep School ended.
As a prep senior, Ramos scored 57 goals and was named the 1983 Parade National Player of the Year. He had a brilliant career at NC State, scoring 104 career points (31 goals, 42 assists) and leading the Wolfpack to four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
Ramos now enjoys the retired life, coaching several junior teams and watching his two oldest children play soccer. His 15-year old son, Alex, is a member of one of the state's top junior teams, coached by his famous father. Oldest daughter Kristen, 13, also plays the sport, while the youngest, Sarah, is about to turn 2.
The soccer legend owns a massive soccer/hockey complex called the Tab Ramos Soccer Academy in Aberdeen, N.J. The 55,000 square foot indoor facility has a hockey rink on one side and a full-sized, artificial turf soccer field on the other. It also has a bar, lounge and arcade.
He coaches several junior club teams and won a national championship two years ago. He also spends a week each year with the national junior residency team in Florida.
"I like doing a lot of work with the kids," Ramos said.
But he also keeps up with what is happening in Raleigh. He likes the Wolfpack's new on-campus home for men's and women's soccer and tries to visit as often as his busy travel schedule allows.
"I love the Wolfpack," Ramos said. "I always follow Wolfpack soccer and all the other sports. Even though I am kind of far away, I am a big fan of everything NC State does."
You may contact Tim Peeler at email@example.com.