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Tuesday, December 06, 2005


is not something that you automatically put into the same sentence with the term "The United States men's soccer team." Even if that team beat Mexico this year in Columbus in a key match that demonstrated that the best team in the eastern hemisphere north of South America is the U.S. team. Even if that team earned its highest ranking ever from FIFA earlier this year -- fifth -- before sinking to eighth later in the year.

No matter, the U.S. will not be a seeded team in World Cup 2006. When all was said and done, it was just too much to ask the U.S. to supplant Brazil, England, France, Spain, Italy, Mexico, Argentina and host Germany. The U.S. just missed out, being ranked ninth, and the Netherlands, which had failed to make World Cup 2002, was tenth. Also missing out was the Czech Republic, which at one time this year had risen to #3 (or thereabouts) in the FIFA rankings this year.

Brazil clearly is the best team in the world, and you could surmise that their backups would qualify for the World Cup as a team of their own if given the chance. The others are perennial favorites, although England and Germany struggled in their World Cup qualifying games, France is aging and iffy on defense, and it's hard to argue that Mexico is better than the United States. U.S. coach Bruce Arena wasn't dissatisfied, saying that the World Cup 2006 field is stronger than the 2002 field.

Look, this is why they play the games. The U.S. team was a quarterfinalist in 2002, a great accomplishment, but it's still not considered part of the soccer elite. Mention soccer, and the first countries that come to mind are Brazil, Argentina, England, France, Germany, Spain and Italy. Mexico crashed the party this time, but I predict now that after World Cup 2006 Mexico no longer will be a part of the world's Elite Eight. Perhaps the U.S. will establish residence, or perhaps it will be another country.

Expect a compelling World Cup 2006. Right now, the favorite has to be Brazil. A bet of Brazil versus the field would be an intriguing one, that's for sure. Until knocked off their perch, the Brazilians are the team to watch. Until they knock someone off a perch, the Americans will be viewed as contenders and not an elite club.

But that status could change in a hurry, in six months.

What this means is that the U.S. will be placed in a bracket with one of the top 8 teams, and, because they're from the same region, the U.S. won't be placed with Mexico. The seedings themselves are suspect, if only because they represent a weighted score of prior years' rankings dating back to 1998. Eight years is almost a generation in international soccer, and I doubt that the 2006 version of a country's World Cup entry has many holdovers from the 1998 version. No matter, the ranking system is what it is, and it's bound to let FIFA down.

And let a surprising team up.

Because, as in most things with sports, it's not what your team did eight years ago or even three years ago that matters. It's what they can do today.

Or, in this case, 2006.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the important thing to reflect on here is what exactly a 'seeding' is. Fundamentally, its utilised as a ranking for parties in tournaments, such that in an ideal world, the best teams end up playing each other in the latter stages of the tournament.

In reference to the above, and with strong international backing support, I can safely say that the United States Soccer team is not even close to that of an appropriate seeded team.

There are blatant gaps in skill, results and frankly the way in which the games are played.

Cops it on the chin America, and get over it!

3:33 AM  

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