World Cup qualifying and CONCACAF’s U-20 results

8 Comments

It’s been a theme throughout U.S.-centric coverage of the CONCACAF U-20 Championship, just as it was a theme during last year’s Olympic qualifying tournament: It’s important for the U.S. to do well in these tournaments. Winning games gives players a chance to gain valuable experience, whether it’s the London games (which the U-23s missed out on) or the U-20 World Cup (where the U.S. will compete this summer).

I’m not so sure. I don’t agree, and I don’t disagree. It just seems like the margins for error are so small in these tournaments. They represent such a tiny amount of their actual development time, I can see the argument that we make way too much out of U-level results.

Take the Olympic qualifying tournament, for example. Also consider the lead up to it. The U.S. beat Mexico 2-0 before the tournament and only lost one match under Caleb Porter. And while that match looks like an outlier in the nine-or-so matches the U-23 played, the timing of the loss meant they didn’t go to London. Instead, players spent July and August with their clubs.

I’m going to dig into this a little. As I write, I don’t know what I’ll find, but I’m going to go back through CONCACAF’s U-20 history and see if teams that finished in the top two of qualifying went on to make subsequent World Cups. The idea here it to try to look at whether U-level success matches senior level accomplishments.

Why the top two? Because there’s a large swatch of CONCACAF U-20 history where the region didn’t have a real tournament. Instead, there were two sub-tournaments that determined which teams qualified for the U-20 World Cup.

Obviously, this isn’t scientific or exhaustive. It’s just a thing – a step, if you will. For some teams, like Mexico, perpetual qualification for World Cups means we’ll learn little from their underage successes, but for other nations, we might see them suddenly start qualifying for World Cups after U-success. We may also see U-success mean absolutely nothing.

Here’s a huge chart showing what I found. Feel free to skip to the conclusions (italics – hosted World Cup, bold – qualified for a World Cup):

U-20 Championship Year Top Two Finishers Next World Cup World Cup after that
1962 1: Mexico
2: Guatemala
1966
MEX: Group stage
GUA: DNQ
1970
MEX: Quarters
GUA: DNQ
1964 1: El Salvador
2: Honduras
1966
ESA: DNQ
HON: DNQ
1970
ESA: Group stage
HON: DNQ
1970 1: Mexico
2: Cuba
1974
MEX: DNQ
CUB: DNQ
1978
MEX: Group stage
CUB: DNQ
1973 1: Mexico
2: Guatemala
1974
MEX: DNQ
GUA: DNQ
1978
MEX: Group stage
GUA: DNQ
1974 1: Mexico
2: Cuba
1978
MEX: Group stage
CUB: DNQ
1982
MEX: DNQ
CUB: DNQ
1976 1: Mexico
2: Honduras
1978
MEX: Group stage
HON: DNQ
1982
MEX: DNQ
GUA: DNQ
1978 1: Mexico
2: Canada
1982
MEX: DNQ
CAN: DNQ
1986
MEX: Quarters
CAN: Group stage
1980 1: Mexico
2: United States
1982
MEX: DNQ
USA: DNQ
1986
MEX: Quarters
USA: DNQ
1982 1: Honduras
2: United States
1986
HON: DNQ
USA: DNQ
1990
HON: DNQ
USA: Group stage
1984 1: Mexico
2: Canada
1986
MEX: Quarters
CAN: Group stage
1990
MEX: DQ
CAN: DNQ
1986 1: Canada
2: United States
1990
CAN: DNQ
USA: Group stage
1994
CAN: DNQ
USA: Second round
1988 1: Costa Rica
2: Mexico
1990
CRC: Second round
MEX: DQ
1994
CRC: DNQ
MEX: Second round
1990 1: Mexico
2: Trinidad and Tobago
1994
MEX: Second round
TT: DNQ
1998
MEX: Second round
TT: DNQ
1992 1: Mexico
2: United States
1994
MEX: Second round
USA: Second round
1998
MEX: Second round
USA: Group stage
1994 1: Honduras
2: Costa Rica
1998
HON: DNQ
CRC: DNQ
2002
HON: DNQ
CRC: Group stage
1996 1: Canada
2: Mexico
1998
CAN: DNQ
MEX: Second round
2002
CAN: DNQ
MEX: Second round
1998 A: United States
B: Mexico
2002
USA: Quarters
MEX: Second round
2006
USA: Group stage
MEX: Second round
2001 A: Costa Rica
B: Canada
2002
CRC: Group stage
CAN: DNQ
2006
CRC: Group stage
CAN: DNQ
2003 A: Panama
B: Canada
2006
PAN: DNQ
CAN: DNQ
2010
PAN: DNQ
CAN: DNQ
2005 A: United States
B: Canada
2006
USA: Group stage
CAN: DNQ
2010
USA: Second round
CAN: DNQ
2007 A: United States
B: Mexico
2010
USA: Second round
MEX: Second round
2009 1: Costa Rica
2: United States
2010
CRC: DNQ
USA: Second round
2011 1: Mexico
2: Costa Rica
2013 Mexico, United States

And exhale.

Let me aggregate all that for you:

  • When a team wins CONCACAF’s U-20 tournament, they’ve appeared in the next World Cup 50 percent of the time. They appear in the World Cup after that 55 percent of the time. Exclude hosts that automatically qualified for World Cups (and Mexico’s 1990 disqualification), and those percentages go down to 48 and 50.
  • CONCACAF U-20 runner-ups have only qualified for the next World Cup 36 percent of the time. Forty percent of the time, however, they’ve made the World Cup that followed. Accounting for hosting duties (and Mexico in 1990), those percentages become 35 and 33.

It’s really difficult to see why winning these tournaments is so important. Of course, you want to win these competitions, but in so far as it’s a harbinger of your World Cup fate, there isn’t a conclusive trend.

Take Canada. The Canadians have not qualified for a World Cup since 1986, and given their finish at the 1984 championships, there was reason to think they had talent coming through that could get them there. But Canada has finished in the top two four times since, yet they haven’t been back to the show. Even if 1984 was a harbinger, it’s unclear their more general U-20 results tell us much.

We know that Mexico and the United States have been perpetual World Cup qualifiers in recent years, yet there are three instances since 1994 where they failed to finish in the top two. It hasn’t influenced their qualifying record.

In a way, this all makes sense. These players spend a dominant amount of their development time with their clubs, and while that doesn’t mean their quality won’t come through in their tournaments, it’s also possible that these small samples of games accumulated every one or two years just aren’t that important.

If you were picking CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifiers four-to-six years ahead of time, you’d probably be better served picking Mexico, the U.S., and Costa Rica every cycle rather than consider any U-20 results.

VIDEO: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago Fire can win World Cup

chicagofire.com
Leave a comment

Big press conferences bring unusual media members out of the woodwork, and this can be pretty embarrassing when it comes to sports.

I remember a few years ago in Buffalo, when the NHL’s Sabres had not resigned Chris Drury and Daniel Briere. A TV newsman, not known for his sports coverage, asked the general manager what they would say to fans who bought Drury and Briere jerseys.

The awkward reply: “Sorry?”

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

There was no exception when the Chicago Fire unveiled Bastian Schweinsteiger on Wednesday. The World Cup winning midfielder faced the press and was asked if his arrival would help Chicago win the World Cup.

You read that right. Here’s the video, even as the communications man jumped in to try and save the reporter by suggesting he meant the FIFA Club World Cup.

Woof. The media overseas are having a field day with this one, but it doesn’t have anything to do with American soccer fans, perhaps even sports media. I’d be stunned if the reporter spent a ton of time around the game.

But man, oh man.

Celtic’s dominance under Rodgers reaching new levels

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
Leave a comment

They’re unbeaten in 29 games, winning 27 of them. They hold a 25-point lead. They’re about to clinch a sixth straight league title this weekend and it’s still not even April.

Celtic’s players have taken their supremacy of Scottish soccer to a new level this season, putting the storied club from Glasgow in the conversation when discussing the most dominant sides in Europe’s domestic leagues in the 21st century.

Celtic will be the Scottish champion again as early as Friday if its closest rival, Aberdeen, loses to Dundee. If Aberdeen wins, Celtic will take an unassailable lead in the Scottish Premiership by beating Hearts on Sunday.

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

There’s been a sense of inevitability about the whole thing since the turn of the year, by which time Celtic had jumped into a 19-point lead. It’s long stopped being called a “title race” in Scotland, more a procession.

Meanwhile, the team coached by former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers won the Scottish League Cup in late November and is also through to the semifinals of the Scottish Cup.

With Celtic’s unbeaten run across three domestic competitions currently at 36 games, this might be the most dominant season by any club in the history of Scotland’s top flight.

A glance around Europe shows a few other examples of title monopolies.

Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia) and BATE Borisov (Belarus) are currently on a streak of 11 domestic leagues titles in a row since 2006. Olympiakos is on course for a seventh straight Greek league title, which would be its 12th in the last 13 years, and Sheriff Tiraspol has won the Moldovan league every year except one since 2000. Basel leads the Swiss league by 17 points and is about to seal a ninth title in 10 years.

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

In these lesser-profile leagues, teams can dominate because of the cash they receive from participating in UEFA competitions, which often allow them to outspend their domestic rivals.

Last week, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin, attending a conference in Lisbon, spoke of the threats to European soccer in the coming years, including the “decrease in competitive balance within European club competitions and secondary effects affecting domestic competitions.”

There are examples of lopsided championships in Europe’s big leagues, too: Juventus is closing on an unprecedented sixth straight Serie A title in Italy and on course for a third straight Serie A-Coppa Italia double; Bayern Munich is on course for a fifth straight Bundesliga title in Germany, which included winning one championship after 27 matches of a 34-round league; Lyon won the French league title seven times in succession from 2002; and Ajax won four straight titles in the Netherlands from 2011-14.

Scotland is widely regarded as a backwater in European soccer these days, mainly because of the uncompetitive nature of its league and an increasing lack of exposure and coverage outside Britain.

What didn’t help was Rangers – Celtic’s fierce crosstown rival and winner of a record 54 league titles – getting demoted to the fourth tier of the Scottish game in 2012 because of financial irregularities.

This is Rangers’ first season back in the Premiership, but it hasn’t been able to challenge Celtic and currently sits 33 points behind in third place. There used to be constant talk of the two “Old Firm” clubs crossing the border to join the English league but that has cooled.

“I want to win (the league) by 50 points,” Rodgers, who is in his first season at Celtic, said last month.

[ MORE: RSL hires Petke ]

In any other league, that would be a preposterous comment, but perhaps no longer in Scotland.

The season started so embarrassingly for Celtic and Rodgers, a 1-0 loss to Gibraltarian part-timer Lincoln Red Imps in a Champions League qualifier in July described by some pundits as the club’s worst defeat in its 130-year history.

Now, they are about to lift the league title with eight matches to spare and potentially in the month of March for the second time in four years.

“We want to continue winning, continue the run that we’re on,” Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon said, “and make sure we do that for as long as we can.”

AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar in Geneva and James Ellingworth in Moscow, and Associated Press writers Ciaran Fahey in Berlin, Daniella Matar in Milan, Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, and Raf Casert in Brussels, Belgium, contributed to this report.

Steve Douglas is at http://www.twitter.com/sdouglas80

Mourinho: Midseason international friendlies don’t make sense

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United has a big challenge thanks to injuries and a club with far more international participants than the weekend’s Premier League rival.

It has the manager asking, frankly, why the friendlies?

While Phil Jones and Chris Smalling were injured in England training, not the friendly against Germany nor the World Cup qualifier versus Lithuania, Mourinho wonders why the national teams need to play relatively meaningless matches in the middle of club season.

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

Mourinho says he is being careful not to be too vocal about his disappointment given that he’ll probably one day need those friendlies as an international boss. From Sky Sports:

“A couple of weeks before the Euros or a couple of weeks before the World Cup makes sense. But mid-season friendly matches mixed with qualification matches, I don’t think that makes sense.

“On top of that the matches are not really big matches so I am not a big fan. But I think one day I will be there so I cannot be very critical.”

Mourinho will be without Jones, Smalling, and Paul Pogba this weekend. He also has several internationals who won’t arrive back at Old Trafford until Thursday. United hosts West Brom on Saturday.

Lamela needs hip surgery, out for rest of Spurs season

Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Tottenham Hotspur won’t be getting an Erik Lamela boost any time soon.

The 25-year-old winger will undergo surgery on his ailing hip this Saturday, costing him availability for Spurs’ stretch run and Argentina duty.

[ MORE: RSL hires Petke ]

Lamela has been missing since Oct. 29, and left Spurs lineup with the team unbeaten in the Premier League (5W-4D).

He registered a goal and an assist in PL play, adding a goal and four helpers in the side’s first two rounds of the EFL Cup and two assists in three Champions League matches.