Tab Ramos: “That’s definitely a place I couldn’t imagine that one day there would be a stadium.”(Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)

By Michael Lewis Editor

HARRISON, N.J. — When Tab Ramos settles into his seat for the U.S.-Costa Rica World Cup qualifier at Red Bull Arena Friday, the former U.S. international star just might feel a bit nostalgic.

After all, he grew up just a long free kick from the stadium and he enjoyed more than a bit of success against the Ticos in his day.

Ramos lived on Sussex Street, which is only a few blocks away from RBA.

“All back there was all factories,” Ramos said Wednesday. “It was very industrial back there. My mom used to work in one of the factories in that area. So sometimes with my friends we’d go on our bikes and ride around the area. That’s definitely a place I couldn’t imagine that one day there would be a stadium.”

When he isn’t coaching the U.S. Under-20 national team — the team reached the quarterfinals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup this past summer — Ramos can be found at the stadium rooting for his former MLS club. He played for the MetroStars before the team was purchased by Red Bull in 2006.

“I live about 40 minutes south of there, but the stadium has a lot of meaning personally to me,” he said. “I go to all of the Red Bulls games when I’m home. I’m always there supporting the team. I always feel that’s important to do. I really enjoy it. It’s a beautiful stadium. For me, it’s the best stadium in the league and a great place to watch a soccer game.”

The next one is Friday night, with a 6:55 p.m. kickoff.

“Oh, the game is this week?” Ramos said, feigning ignorance.

Ramos had lunch with the team in Hoboken earlier this week.

“I’m really excited about the game,” he said. “I think we’ll win.”

There is good reason. Ramos certainly saved his best for the Ticos, scoring two of his eight international goals (in 81 appearances) during WCQ. The first one also was in a 1-0 qualifying win in 1989.

“I guess you have to say coincidence,” he said, adding that the U.S. also won the first CONCACAF U-20 championship over Costa Rica. “All my memories in Costa Rica are good for me.”

The second one was more dramatic, a 1-0 triumph in Portland in a must-win game against the Central Americans.

“The end of my career was a struggle with injuries,” Ramos said. “And that was definitely one of those times that for the first time I felt handicapped because of injury. I had been out for so long. No matter how hard you work in rehab with the trainers and the doctors, it’s never the same in actually playing a game. It was my [second] international game back. I really didn’t know how it was going to go. I was hoping for the best and it turned out well.”

Now 50, Ramos struck from atop the penalty area in the 78th minute, powering a shot past goalkeeper Erick Lonnis.

“For me, it was more relief than anyone else,” he said. “You have a serious injury, you never know how you’re going to come back. The game in general went pretty well for me. I don’t think it was my best game. I played OK and then I scored the big goal. I was able to play the 90 minutes. That was all i was thinking about before the game. Fortunately, it worked out. It’s hard to think about emotions from so long ago.

“It seemed like Costa Rica was my team to play against.”

Ramos then laughed, but became serious again.

“It was a hard-fought game,” he said. “What I remember it was a little bit of back and forth. We were the better team, which we usually are when we are at home qualifiers. They were good, too. I do remember that Preki came into the game and changed things a little bit. Obviously because he’s so crafty and elusive.”