If US Soccer is going to take a stand on one piece of CONCACAF idiocy, let it be this one

The nest of geniuses that is the CONCACAF Executive Committee apparently has looked at the ungodly, two-year, 18-match slog that is South American World Cup qualifying and said, let’s bring that here, but make it bigger.

Please, Sunil, I’ve defended you a lot, I’ve defended your non-oppositional approach to CONCACAF and FIFA. I’ve defended you against American soccer’s worst mouth breathers. But please, please, get together with the Mexicans and at least try to stop this from happening.

What appears to be on the agenda is a 22-match final round replacing the previous 16-game semi/final format. The final remaining 12 teams, after some kind of prelim round, would then play each other twice over an enormous two-year span. Let’s take a look a the 12 teams that made it to the third round of qualifying this time around.

  • Canada
  • Costa Rica
  • Cuba
  • El Salvador
  • Guatemala
  • Haiti
  • Honduras
  • Jamaica
  • Mexico
  • Suriname
  • Trinidad
  • USA

This means, depending on your ichthyological definitions, at least 6-8 matches against minnows who really have no chance whatsoever qualifying for the World Cup. This includes countries like Cuba, Haiti, Suriname, and Canada (Hi Duane!). Only one of the six additional teams that would be allowed into this gluttonous final round could even be described as “bubble” teams that at least made it close in the third round (Jamaica). The rest are downright mediocre. Using the last cycle’s results as a guide again, they’re teams that averaged -7.5 goal difference with only one of them even finishing their 3rd round with an even zero GD (Jamaica, again).

This then emerges as fixture congestion of the worst sort. Here’s why this matters:

  • Player fatigue: With more and more of the US’ top players playing in Europe’s only league with a restorative winter break, US fans will face an England-style rash of injuries when our Premier League-based players hit the wall after all the additional travel and matches between England and CONCACAF. Also, with our players increasingly playing on teams further involved in deeper European runs, this just further adds strain through even more matches and more travel.
  • Dilution of product: If I’m US Soccer, I’m dreading the prospect of having to sell tickets to World Cup qualifiers against the likes of Suriname and Canada. On one hand, USSF wants to play these matches in big venues to increase revenue and increase the perception that qualifiers are “big deals,” on the other hand, you’re not going to get 20,000 fans for USA-Suriname at typical WCQ prices anywhere in the country. What makes the hex so much fun is that there isn’t all that much of it. It’s tense. It’s difficult. It’s a difficult combination between the proverbial marathon and sprint. This will remove much of the urgency out of many matches, especially road matches.
  • The politics of it: If there is any issue where the big boys of CONCACAF need to step up and stomp down, it’s this one. Mexico and the USA do not need their players called in for more travel and more near-meaningless matches. This would be a great chance for Gulati to show he actually has some heft within CONCACAF by making this plan go away. I understand the need to keep CONCACAF/FIFA feathers unruffled during a World Cup bid, but this is about the players here. As an aside, if I hear that the Canadian Federation is pushing for this, then I’m leading a field trip down to the embassy here in DC where we can all stomp on Sydney Crosby effigies, and burn Barenaked Ladies Albums.

But let’s not mince words as to why this is taking place. This is a move to placate members of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU), all of whom are fully paid members of Jack Warner’s kleptocracy within CONCACAF. Only once since 1998 has more than one CFU team even made to the final round (2002). So this is about giving the CFU minnows more TV money and more gate money through near-guaranteed matches with the US and Mexico. It doesn’t take a keen political eye to read between the lines of this quote by Jamaican official Horace Burrell.
See, it’s not even really about CFU teams actually qualifying for World Cups. It’s about them making as much money as possible.

As I said earlier, this would be a great opportunity to see if Gulati is capable of doing anything more than simply pledging fealty to his bosses in the increasingly less likely* hopes of another US-hosted World Cup.

* I’ll get to this in another post, but I think Gulati is about to get out-maneuvered and dramatically outspent by the Qataris.

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37 thoughts on “If US Soccer is going to take a stand on one piece of CONCACAF idiocy, let it be this one

  1. **sigh**

    Aaron (as well as John and Duane before you),

    I’m getting tired of repeating this, but here goes: that article is only a statement from “Captain” Burrell. THIS is the actual proposal.

    1 preliminary stage, followed by 3 group stages. We have no idea about anything after that, and certainly not if the 12-team group survived. But honestly, even your greatest detractors would admit at the least that you three are decent bloggers. Why didn’t any of you think to look at CONCACAF’s actual website for any official announcement before flying off the handle about Burrell’s outdated conjecture?

  2. I should’ve been more clear in the piece but I think both pieces are accurate. I think there will be three rounds. Here’s how I think the plan works based on the limited info we have and my limited patience for math today.

    Knockout Round: Weeds out the truly tiny folks
    1st Group round: Group play for those advancing out of first round plus a few less tiny teams. There might only be 8-12 teams in this round
    2nd group round: Maybe 24 teams here with big boys enter the pot here playing in groups with 2-3 minnows to advance to the final round robin.
    3rd group round: This is the big ugly COMNEBOL-style round robin.

    I should add, I could see this system being adopted but with US, Mexico, and 1-2 other teams get byes into the final round robin. It’s still a crap system though.

  3. Thank you for your reply. And also, since the May 7 article from CONCACAF states that the proposal was forwarded to FIFA by its Executive Committee, we already know that Gulati saw and signed off on it. Just one other correction:

    Trinidad and Tobago in 2006.

  4. You’re right on the T&T item. I’ll fix that.

    On the other item, remember, there are lots of ways and places for an item to get “shelved” or put away for the time being. Just because it’s reached FIFA doesn’t necessarily mean it’s doomed to pass.

  5. I agree with that. But what I’m saying, is, Gulati (and Guillermo Canedo for Mexico) already had their chance at bat when this was being discussed in the Executive Committee, so unless they come out with “this was approved over my objection” statements, we already know they’ve decided to play along with Uncle Jack again.

  6. Well, with the imposed mediocracy of MLS debilitating it’s own clubs for international play, the coinciding less-than-serious-attitude Mexican clubs take in the competition, despite the continued inability of any US club to win in Mexico, of course CONCACAF has to milk qualifying for all it’s worth. With a pathetic partner in MLS, it’s the only international competition they can get.

    The healthiest thing to do is look at it as just a bit more evidence for the sorry state of our club game, under a federation that is a client of our entitled first division.

    MLS needs to do everything they can keep real international competition in the international realm, and this helps.

  7. While I agree it’s a bad idea for the competition, there is one bright side…

    …lots fo good locations for soccer tourism…

  8. A history lesson.

    In 1998 and 2002, CONCACAF Qualifying looked like this:

    1st round:
    Jamaica had a bye to the semifinal round in 2002 qualifying.

    Caribbean: 3 groups of 8 playing in a Cup System. 3 winners advanced to 12 team semifinal round. 3 runners-up to the Interzonal playoff.
    Why? It saved money, got rid of 12 teams after 2 games and 18 after 4.

    Central America:
    Costa Rica had a bye to the semifinal round based on past performance.
    League format tournament with top couple to semis, next couple to Interzonal playoff

    North America.
    Mexico and US bye to semifinal round, Canada to Interzonal playoff.

    Second Round – aka Interzonal Playoff
    Three Caribbean minnows paired with Canada and two Central American also-rans. Home/Home series for final three spots in the semifinals

    Semifinal/Hexagonal Rounds – same as 2006/2010 system.

    ——————————————————–
    Changes for 2006 system.
    Initially, CONCACAF scrapped the pre-semifinal round system with groups of 3 in a league system – forcing the big teams to play 4 additional games.

    After the groups were drawn, amidst protests from Mexico and the U.S., the groups of 3 were converted to cup systems with the two minnows playing off for the right to play the seeded team.

    —————————
    My take. This is yet another “cash grab” by CONCACAF. Forcing Mexico, the U.S., Costa Rica to play fewer cash friendly and competitive friendlies and more games where CONCACAF members can make money off of the TV rights.

    It sounds like the crux of the system is to more or less go straight to a league system at the current semifinal stage. Meaning the U.S. will likely have to play a minnow home/home – then play another 22 WCQs.

    It doesn’t sound like much, but this will add 6 throwaway games that the U.S. would be better served playing better teams. Say goodbye to most of the trips to England, Spain, and Holland.

    Once again, we’re going to see Mexico and the U.S. have to fight back against this. It’ll be interesting to see what concessions are made to limit the number of WCQs that the U.S. and Mexico have to play.

  9. These weird attempts to ID me are kinda creepy, dude. As are the attempts to saddle me as the only person who thinks that MLS is backwards, and that USSF is it’s client.

  10. While I’m certainly against the outing of those who choose to be anonymous online… don’t you identify yourself on your own website, to which you link from here?

  11. That’s the name on your Twitter profile, dude.

    I know that because I was reading an informative tweet by one Beau Dire, who was busy shooing away one of your many tweets to him.

    Go ahead, keep it up with posting irrelevant information on other people’s blogs.

  12. Attempts? I’m just using your name. Do you have a problem with your name? are you ashamed of it?

    Do you not want your name attached to your plans and ideas?

    I have never indicated that you the only person with a negative idea with regards to MLS or its business model. Your reading comprehension is what is “creepy.”

  13. I gotta be close to topic for all you imposed mediocrity enablers to gang up!

    So, CONCACAF added fixtures to WCQ, while MLS commitment to CCL is lukewarm. Shoot, the Sounders NFL Leiweke sticks CCL matches in a stadium that maxes out at 1/6 of the 1/2 of Qwest Field that they open for MLS matches.

    I could get more specific and start talking SUM Superliga, and how that fits into the conundrum.

    Yeah, you all are right. There’s no connection – except for the fact that the same hands are always stirring the pot.

    I can never tell if you can’t see it, or choose not to.

  14. Aaron,

    Could you get some more details behind the decision by the CONCACAF Executive Committee to propose a preliminary round then three group stages?

    While it’s fun to speculate on the details, I’d much rather have a journalist track down the actual details on how many teams and groups would be involved in each stage.

    Thanks!

  15. You think I don’t respond to the vast majority of blogs and posts because I can’t get to them?

    The connections are there. All you really have to do is believe for one second that finding a way to make money off of soccer in our little closed system, and finding a way to produce the best soccer, aren’t always compatible goals. Then, you might be able to believe, for a second, that the mixed agendas have side effects like this nutty WCQ plan.

    I know I’m in the realm of alien abduction and cattle mutilation here, but this really isn’t the chupacabra or bigfoot.

  16. Just a suggestion, but this format could instead lower the total group stage games from 16 to 10 as well. Why not just separate the top 12 into 2 divisions of 6, play a UEFA style 10 game round robin with the division winners getting into the WC and the runners-up playing a 2-leg playoff, winner moving to the WC and loser playing the 5th place CONMEBOL team? This probably wouldn’t happen, but this would work, and it would eliminate useless game. And the pots could be separated to keep Mexico and USA separate too.

    Pot 1:
    USA
    Mexico

    Pot 2:
    Honduras
    Costa Rica
    Canada
    El Salvador
    Panama
    Jamaica

    Pot 3:
    The remaining 4

  17. Because Count Jackula needs his USA-Mexico cash transfusion. And let’s be honest, the fans on both sides are used to and enjoy the series by now.

  18. Uh … US v Mexico in the Hex is the biggest event in North American Sports. ** Period. Why do away with that?

    ** While for me these games are Hugigantenourmous above all others — I do realize reality. Please don’t argue with me on this point and focus on the more salient aspect of my post. Thanks!

  19. I highly doubt any USA-Mexico soccer game will ever match the Canada-USA Olympic Gold Medal hockey game. TV ratings, popularity, and everything. 😛 Just saying…

    But yes I definitely realize that the USA-Mexico game is a big deal, but there’s no reason why they couldn’t play friendlies on a regular basis, especially if there were less qualifying games

  20. Hey, somebody crunch the numbers on this. I’ll take the bet! Mind you, just as you’d add up the viewership in Canada + the US for one, you’d have to add up the US + Mexico for the other, and 100 million+ > 33 million.

  21. the minnows playing the bigs in official competition helps their development (at least that’s the idea)

    and anyways that’s why you (Mex/usa) have a bench/reserves..

    so they can play these extra games (which they should win vs. minnows), get some reps/playing time in, and then the real starters play the last couple of WCQ games.

    there’s no reason to bring in the heavy artillery for the earlier rounds, let the locals (mls) get some burn..

  22. This is difficullt for the MLSophiles to admit. If US v Mexico soccer beats US v Canada hockey, and MLS gets only one viewer for every twenty five WWE is getting….. they get red faced, start gobbling zantac and popping percocet.

  23. Without knowing exactly how things will shake out in the end, I’d actually like to see the Hex replaced by a larger final group stage (hopefully offset by less games preceding it). The problem with the current Hex format is that it doesn’t consistently put the best six teams in the final round stage. There’s always several of Honduras, Guatemala, Canada, Costa Rica, Jamaica or T&T that gets left out after a somewhat random 4-team stage before it, and the losers then basically get stuck with a situation where they can’t play any meaningful matches for years except for the Gold Cup.

    On one hand, we’re complaining about how CONCACAF games don’t offer us good competition, but how are all the countries other than the U.S. and Mexico going to develop their programs if they have these cycles where their teams are basically dormant for 2-3 years because they slip up in that prior 4-team group stage?

    There have been several times over the last decade where some of the second-tier CONCACAF countries have gotten strong momentum and then lost it because they crashed out before the Hex. Take Honduras for example. In 2001, they beat us at RFK and played an amazing match. They came really close that year to qualifying for the WC that cycle, losing out on 3rd place to us on the 10th matchday. But then in the 2006 qualification cycle they get a win, a loss and 4 draws in the prior stage, and they don’t make the Hex. That made them basically hit reset on their program for a couple years.

    The U.S. and Mexico have a legitimate reason to oppose a system that will increase the overall number of games over the whole cycle (which is really 18, not 16 by the way, since the 2-match play-in series is actually the scariest part of the whole process in some ways). However, it’s actually in our interests to make sure that all of the countries I mentioned have meaningful games over most of the qualification period so that they can get traction making their programs stronger and more consistent, which the CONMEBOL system does more in some ways IMO.

  24. [1] USSF gets more chances at gate receipts at home and TV money for televising the CONMEBOL style final rounds.

    [2] The teams with the greatest depth will benefit by far. Injuries, yellow cards, fatigue, club conflicts (oh yeah, they love that they’re required to release players) will all weigh heavily on teams that have shallow reserves.

    [3] The FMF was probably for it, which likely influenced Gulati. The FMF is never shy about pimping out the national team for some hard currency.

  25. If this is what concacaf wants, then will they do away with the extra Gold Cup? Will qualifying start in 2011 instead of 2012?

    There are 34 world cup eligible sides in concacaf. 28 sides will compete in in the first group round to determine 18 teams. Add the hexers to that group and you have 24. 6 groups of 4 to determine 12 teams. Top two advance.

    Or have the last six get a bye all the way to the 12 team round robin, so then it would be 6 groups of 3, winner moves on.

  26. If we end up playing additional home games, they’d probably lose money, because the teams being added are bad draws.

    You do make a point here. Financial cost for USSF, unappealing matchups for fans. . . but Mexico came closer to slipping on the banana peel in the semis last time than they did in the actual Hex (they only got to the Hex on GD).

    I think the idea would be all right if we just put two fewer teams into that final round. Yeah, it’s not as ‘tight’ as the Hex, but that’s illusory given what goes on in the semifinal round now. And the teams we’d play in the final round qualifiers are the sort we already play in the semis. Maybe they’d even give a bye from that stupid ‘slaughter a defenseless island nation’ home-and-home that starts it all, and we wouldn’t even be behind any fixture congestion.

  27. I actually like this format! It should be 10 teams in the final round though. They should also make the Gold Cup a quadrennial event.

    The reason why I like this format is that now we can (at least in theory) get the best 4 teams from CONCACAF to represent the region. Case in point, in the last WCQ in the round before the final hex, Jamaica was placed in a group with Mexico and Honduras; two WC qualifiers. Meanwhile Costa Rica had El Salvador (a decent team), Suriname and Haiti. How do we know that Jamaica would not have finished in front of Costa Rica if they were placed in the final hex? Under this proposed format, we will now know for sure…

  28. Which is why this proposal puts beyond all doubt that the Fort Lauderdale Strikers are getting short shrift in HoF voting.

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