What new manager Tab Ramos brings to Hartford Athletic in the USL

Quick Hits
  • Earlier this week, Hartford Athletic announced that former USMNT player and U.S. men’s U-20 national team coach Tab Ramos will be their new manager
  • With his background in youth development and his wealth of American soccer connections, Ramos could be a valuable hire for Hartford
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On Monday, Hartford Athletic announced that Tab Ramos is going to be the team’s head coach starting in September. The club’s managerial role opened in late June when Harry Watling resigned after a season-and-a-half at the helm. 

Ramos’ hiring is a statement for a team that has struggled outside of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season – and it’s also a sign of a long term vision for Hartford.

Since debuting four years ago, the Connecticut-based club has been led by four managers, if you include current interim Ray Reid. The most recent, Watling, had experience in England at Chelsea and West Ham’s youth academies but never showed much tactical nous. Hartford placed fifth in their division and a distant 13 points out of the playoffs in Watling’s first campaign and won only three games in 15 tries before his 2022 resignation.

Tactical similarities

Interestingly, Ramos’ tactical preferences largely mirror those of Watling. Both managers base their teams out of 4-3-3 shape, and both focus on high pressure. Under Ramos, the Houston Dynamo aggressively pushed their fullbacks high and tucked their wingers narrow. This year’s Hartford team does something very similar.

It’s important to note that neither regime was particularly successful with this style. Ramos’ Dynamo team finished last in the Western Conference in each of his two seasons coaching in MLS. He arguably failed to implement his style at all: Houston finished second-to-last for possession and third-to-last for expected goals in his second season (2021).

Time for a new recruitment plan?

Despite the middling results, Ramos is still an important hire, one that can introduce a new era for Hartford Athletic. 

It’s not his tactical approach that makes him such an intriguing coach for Hartford. No, it’s Ramos’ connections in American soccer that make him an immense asset, and those connections ought to pay dividends for a team that has lacked ambition and success in player recruitment.

Say what you will about the efficacy of the high-pressing 4-3-3 in the past for both Ramos and Hartford, but Louisville City and Phoenix Rising have both built title contenders out of an identical setup in the past. Simply put, this Hartford team lacks talent. The team added 13 players in the offseason, and all but one – starting goalkeeper Yannik Oettl on loan from MLS – were USL role players. Andre Lewis, a star midfielder, is the only signing who rated in the top 25% of USL players for value-added in 2021 by my Goals Above Replacement statistic.

Here, Ramos changes the game. He managed four cycles’ worth of U.S. U-20 men’s national teams and can tap into those connections in future recruitment. Proteges like Conor Donovan are playing at an all-league level in the USL Championship; Luis Gil is making a comeback with Omaha in USL League One; further, out-of-favor MLS players like Rubio Rubin, formerly of the San Diego Loyal could also be lured to Connecticut. Even ex-Dynamo talents like Kyle Adams or Alejandro Fuenmayor, two starting defenders in the second-tier, could be targets.

None of those players could sign and Ramos would still have a wealth of connections and relationships to leverage. Plus, his value to the nascent Hartford academy will bear fruit far into the future. The manager’s long stretch involved in the youth national setup sets him apart in the field of development, and the practices he instills will pay off in the coming years for his new club. 

One could accuse Hartford Athletic of lacking a vision in their first few seasons of existence, but Ramos brings a new level of excitement and pedigree to set a better course.