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.