World Cup qualifying and CONCACAF’s U-20 results

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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.

Chivas Guadalajara wins 12th Liga MX title

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A nail-biting finish saw Chivas Guadalajara lift the 2016/17 Liga MX title, beating Apertura champions Tigres to earn the club’s 12th Liga MX title.

The title makes Guadalajara the joint-most successful club in Mexican top flight history, even with Club America on titles.

With the aggregate score at 2-2 coming into the second leg at Chivas Stadium, the home side took the lead on an 18th minute expert finish by former Tigres youth product Alan Pulido. Oswaldo Alanís delivered a brilliant deep, looping ball to the far post, and under one-on-one pressure with a defender, Pulido struck it first-time and buried the ball into the far corner.

The game waited until midway through the second half for the next strike, as the eventual winner would fall to Jose Vazquez. The 29-year-old charged down a bounding ball that Tigres failed to clear, and his effort on net took a sizeable deflection off the midsection of a visiting defender, leaving the ball to trickle in uncontested.

Despite a 4-2 aggregate lead, it was by no means comfortable down the stretch for Chivas. Tigres pulled one back in the 88th minute on a fabulous strike by Ismael Sosa from just outside the top of the box. The visitors pressed for a stunning late equalizer, but it wasn’t to be.

The title is sweet for Chivas, who has endured a decade of struggles since winning its last championship, even coming close to relegation at times. In addition, the starting lineup for the second leg was fully domestic from top to bottom, with all 11 players from Mexico. On that same note, Pulido outdueled expensive Tigres striker Andre-Pierre Gignac, putting in on of the most impressive shifts of the match.

MLS Snapshot: FC Dallas 0-0 Houston Dynamo

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The game in 100 words (or less): The goalkeepers starred as the first Texas derby of the season ended goalless in Frisco, leaving both teams winless for at least three matches. A relatively slow start to the match gave way to an electric pace before halftime, as both goalkeepers made incredible saves, and FC Dallas had a goal correctly ruled out for offside. The second half saw two more fantastic stops, and each team had little else to offer the game.

Three moments that mattered

27′ – A pair of incredible saves, one on each end. In a game that had slogged through the opening half-hour and just seen FC Dallas defender Walker Zimmerman off injured, the match sprung to life. First, Kellyn Acosta delivered a beautiful free-kick from just off-center to the right. Tyler Deric was there, acrobatically reaching the top-right corner with his fingertips to deny the USMNT youngster. The save was so good, Acosta appeared to be prematurely celebrating a goal before he was forced to pull up after seeing the stop.

Then, immediately down the other end, Alberth Elis charged down a loose ball and ripped a shot on net, but Jesse Gonzalez produced an equally stunning save to keep the game scoreless.

66′ – FC Dallas dominated the opening stages of the second half, but they’d need their goalkeeper again to keep the score level. Alex delivered a dangerous cross from the left flank, and while it went over the head of Cubo Torres, it fell to Mauro Manoutas sliding in at the back post who met it on the slide. Unfortunately for Houston, Gonzalez was in the right place to make an admittedly awkward save.

80′ – In a 0-0 game, with no goals to speak of, the loudest cheer of the night was for Mauro Diaz. The 26-year-old made his return from an Achillies tear, subbing on with 10 minutes remaining for the first time since early August. He received a standing ovation from the FC Dallas home crowd.

Honorable mention – Kellyn Acosta delivered this eye-popping through-ball just before halftime. Feast your eyes.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Jesse Gonzalez

Goalscorers: None

Championship Playoff Final preview: Huddersfield Town vs. Reading

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These two teams weren’t supposed to be here, at Wembley on Monday at 10:00 a.m. ET playing for a spot in the Premier League.

Everyone talked about how beautiful Fulham played. Everyone talked about how Sheffield kept on winning. Everyone kept talking about the favorites. Everyone wrote off the other guys.

Yet here we are. Reading, owner of a +4 goal differential. Huddersfield Town, owner of a -2 goal differential. Reading, winners over Fulham thanks to a bogus handball. Huddersfield, on to Wembley after a penalty shootout in the rain.

Here we are. The game that will catapult one team to the riches of the Premier League, the game that will send another team back to the depths of the Championship, consigned to progress with the heartbreak of knowing they were so close.

[ MORE: USMNT roster announced for upcoming World Cup qualifiers ]

The Championship playoff final is one of the biggest enigmas in the European soccer landscape. Teams like Reading looking to return to familiar lands of plentiful bounty, others like Huddersfield looking for glory never experienced before.

Huddersfield has not seen top flight action since 1972, and former American international David Wagner has them on the precipice. “There were a lot of statements before the semi-finals about momentum and about form,” Wagner said. “It is another example where we have proven that experience and what has happened in the past is irrelevant. After the 120 minutes against Sheffield Wednesday there were a lot of tired legs, but now after a training camp in Portugal and training on the grass here, everybody is ready to go.”

As far as form goes, Town is struggling. They drew both legs of the Sheffield Wednesday playoff semifinal 0-0, and finished the regular season on a three-match losing streak. They haven’t won a match since April 14th.

Reading, meanwhile, finished the year with wins in seven of their final nine regular season games, and they downed an attacking Fulham side 1-0 at home in the second leg of their semifinal. They’ve been stellar at winning close games all year, winning 18 regular season games by just a single goal, and losing just four, with seven draws. If Jaap Stam can lead his side back to the Premier League, it would mark just a four-year turnaround from their previous relegation from the top flight.

Riches await the winner. The sides couldn’t be more different, and yet on Monday, they both face the same brick wall.

Epic fake injury mars Hungarian league title match

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Sometimes it works out perfectly. Two teams, a title on the line, one match to decide it.

The top two teams in the Hungarian top flight, also known as the NB I, were set to play each other on the final day of the season to decide the title winner.

Budapest Honved hosted Videoton, with the winner set to win the league title. A draw would have given Videoton the victory on goal differential.

With the match 0-0 at halftime, it progressed tensely through the second half. So tense, in fact, that the teams felt they needed to do everything in their power to earn an edge. Even fake injuries. Terribly.

34-year-old Videoton striker Danko Lazovic, a veteran who has been around Europe with Zenit St. Petersburg, Bayer Leverkusen, and a host of Eredivisie teams,  looked to earn a foul in the attacking half. He put so much effort into selling the foul that, well, he went a little overboard. And by a little overboard, we mean he went berserk on the field, rolling around and flailing on his back.

There are many factors that make this an absolutely epic moment. First, his team had already earned a foul without the dive. The referee had blown the whistle for a shove moments before Lazovic went down. Second, his teammate looks to come over and help him sell the foul a little more realistically, and instead of accept his teammate’s assistance, he shrugs off the help and continues to flail. Third, as karma would have it, Honved would score the title-winning goal six minutes later as they would go on to win 1-0.

Kids, don’t try this at home. It’s not a good look.