A CONCACAF Nation Will Never Win The World Cup

Luis Bueno has an article up at CNNSI where he talks about the difficulties that CONCACAF nations face on the world soccer stage and also talks about they many common ‘solutions’ that have been proposed to lift CONCACAF out of the world’s soccer basement.

Numerous theories abound on how to fix the region’s ails, on how the U.S. can consistently compete at World Cups, on how Mexico can take a space alongside Argentina and Italy as a true world power. Nevertheless, those theories are an exercise in futility. For no matter what happens this fact will remain unchanged: A CONCACAF nation will never win a World Cup.

Now that’s a bit defeatist overall. You improve if you strive for great heights. But even I admit that I doubt we’ll see the cup go to a CONCACAF nation in my lifetime. That doesn’t mean we should stop trying though. Luis touches on many common ideas for improving CONCACAF…

Merge with CONMEBOL:

In CONMEBOL, unlike CONCACAF, there are no pushovers. If American lungs struggle with the lack of oxygen in the 7,000-foot elevation of Mexico City, what would happen if the U.S. were forced to play in La Paz, Bolivia — elevation 13,000 feet? Finishing second in those groups would be far more difficult than finishing second in the current hexagonal.

If a merger did happen, the only nations that would benefit would be the second-tier South American sides. Colombian, Chilean and Peruvian mouths would salivate at the prospect of needing wins in Guatemala and Trinidad and Tobago in order to reach the World Cup.

I agree. No way in heck would CONCACAF teams see the finals in this setup except maybe Mexico when the planets aligned. More exposure to CONMEBOL teams in friendlies and tournaments – great. But a merger would be a nightmare. If CONCACAF ever got strong enough to compete with CONMEBOL on an equal footing, a merger might make sense to counter the larger federations, but if done now, CONCACAF teams would be basement dwellers forever.

More Players In Europe:

In the ’98 World Cup, the U.S. had all of six players ply their trade in Europe. Four years ago, 11 of the team’s 23 players were on European clubs and the U.S. went from 32nd place to the quarterfinals. This time around, the U.S. had 12 of its players on European teams and another — John O’Brien — who had spent all but six minutes in the Netherlands. Yet the U.S. took a giant step backward and failed to win a single game. In fact, Clint Dempsey — one of the few Americans who stood out — had the best performance, and he’s never held a job in Europe.

This raises a very interesting point. Many people felt Landon Donovan would have played better if he had stayed in Europe. Would he have? I can’t shake the feeling that our guys simply lacked a hunger or came off slightly in awe or intimidated. Another angle to this is if the top tier talent always goes to Europe – what happens to the MLS. Do we work to raise the level of play in the MLS to build our national team talent pool or ship it off to Europe? I’m starting to think maybe we get the MLS teams more international exposure to raise the level of play.

More CONCACAF teams in the Copa America:

In reality, the U.S. should never have shunned the Copa America. For the U.S. and Costa Rica, nothing bad can happen from participating if they prepare for the tournament wisely. Yet that alone wouldn’t elevate any CONCACAF nations’ success.

I have always felt there really is no downside to this. Recent rumblings from US Soccer about going in 2007 are a good sign. I agree it by itself won’t make a huge difference, but every little bit helps.

Foreign Coaches:

Though true with nations on the cusp, such as Portugal, high-profile coaches would have little to work with in all CONCACAF nations save Mexico.

Perhaps. Bruce Arena spent a lot of time working to improve development at the youth level and the implementation of programs similar to Europe. Perhaps a European coach could help the US continue where Bruce left off. However there are some who feel a European model won’t necessarily work in the US and a hybrid approach is needed for youth development. I’m on the fence about this, leaning towards relying on foreign coaches for a while until the MLS gets stronger.

One thing not mentioned was the idea of the CONCACAF Champions League which I believe would help CONCACAF if it ever came into existence. But even if it starts as MLS v Mexico, it’s a start.

I think Luis is being a bit overly pessimistic, but he does provide a much need reality check.

The U.S., for instance, qualified for its first World Cup in 50 years in 1990, and now, after five consecutive appearances, American fans are upset because the team has only reached the quarterfinals once. It will take years, decades, perhaps a generation or two for the U.S. or any other CONCACAF nation to join the ranks of Argentina, Italy and Germany, if ever.

I think the ‘if ever’ part is too defeatist and we REALLY need to work towards not only competing strongly on the world stage, but also lifting the cup. I’m not ready to say it’ll never happen. I think it will. I just hope I’m alive to see it.

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  1. “I agree. No way in heck would CONCACAF teams see the finals in this setup except maybe Mexico when the planets aligned.”

    I’d have to disagree, the US and Mexico are competitive, and a step above, the bottom of CONMEBOL (Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru, Chile).

    Plus, the merger of the two would require a whole new qualification system. I’d like to see something like this: Assume we get 8 spots (CSF’s 4 our 4) and make it a 16 team qualification process (CSF’s ten teams 8 CONCACAF’S teams). You’d still make the minnows from CONCACAF play earlier qualifications round like they do now to qualify for the final qualification round. Then, organize the teams into 4 groups of 4, with the top 2 from each team advancing to the World Cup finals. Teams could be seeded based on how well they performed at the last World Cup. You play home and away in your group, 6 matches total.

    This could work, the grouip your drawn into would play a big part of course. Are you in a group with Brasil or Argentina, do you ahve to play at altitude in Quito or La Paz, or in the stifling humidity of Colombia?

    Actually, this might be too few matches to qualify. You could expand it to 20 teams in the group (8 matches total). Or go with 2 groups of 8 each, and have the top 4 from each group advance, after playing 14 matches (too many, CSF already does more under its current set up).

    Who would this hurt – mostly the Caribbean and Central American nations. It’d be much tougher for T&T or Jamaica to qualify. The US and Mexico might not favor it either, since now we have almost assured tickets to every final. But the TV execs mights favor it!

  2. So if we already have assured tickets to the finals and the Caribbean/Central American teams would have a tougher time qualifying, is it worth the risk of losing that? Maybe it is. Sure, in the group system you mention, you’d probably see the USA and/or Mexico stay ‘safe’, but is that really a valid format in a smaller federation. UEFA does 8 groups with a playoff, but they have a lot of teams. CONCACAF has lots of little teams – so would you basically put the decent CONCACAF teams into the draw pool with CONMEBOL and then let the little nations duke it out in their own groups for one slot or a playoff slot? Would that be fair?

    Don’t get me wrong – a combined federation would get CONCACAF teams a lot of exposure to really good teams. I just worry that we’d set ourselves so far back we’d offset the benefit from the early rounds by CONCACAF being shut out of the finals, at least for a while. Tough to say.

  3. I think its worth risking if you want Mexico & the US to get past the CONCACAF hump by getting them to play tougher teams and eventually be considered a real contender in the tournament.

    I’d seed teams #1 and #2 seeds, so that one group isn’t unbalanced. Stick the CSF teams in another pot, and then the remaining CONCACAF teams in another. Of course, a big down side to this system is that your less likely to see Argentina face Brazil or USA vs Mexico, but you still have Copa America and Gold Cup for that.

    Any team from our current region that makes it to the Finals would be way more prepared, having faced a much harder road through qualification. Plus, wouldn’t you rather travel to see a US vs Brazil qualifier than US vs Guatemala?

    Politically, I don’t see this really happening. There’s no way that the Carribean and Central American nations would have a realistic shot at qualifying, and they have way more votes in CONCACAF than the US and Mexico do.

  4. So if politically it’ll never happen (and I agree with you there) what’s the next best thing? Maybe getting to the point where we have an actual CONCACAF Champions League and reserve 2-4 spots for CONMEBOL teams?