This is a guest post by super columnist Nick Sindt
Back in May, the US submitted its bid packets for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
Per CONCACAF’s website (on May 14th of 2010) that bid packet also had a tasty little treat delivered with it; CONCACAF’s proposal for modifications to its current World Cup Qualifying format.
Recently it has come out (by way of La Prensa and USSoccerPlayers.com) that CONCACAF’s proposal is this:
• Round 1 – The 6 lowest ranked teams will compete in a playoff to pare the entire field down to 32 teams. (2 games pre team)
• Round 2 – The 32 teams will be divided up into 8 groups of 4 (6)
• Round 3 – The top 2 teams from each group are put into 4 groups of 4 (6)
• Round 4 – The top 2 teams from each group are then put into 2 groups of 4. Group Winners are automatically in the WC. (6)
• Round 5 –The two 2nd place teams in the groups will playoff for the 3rd slot, with the loser facing off against a country from another federation for the right to go to the WC. If we are granted 4 slots in the WC then the two 2nd place teams automatically go to the dance.
Others have opined on why CONCACAF is proposing this change; the best reason that I’ve read is that it’ll give the minnows (pretty much everyone outside the top 8-10 teams) in our region more World Cup Qualifying Games, which in turn improves their FIFA Rankings, thus improving the US and Mexico’s FIFA Rankings when they beat them in hopes of landing a seed at the WC Draw. Plus more games for these teams means more $$$ from gate receipts. The nations that are consistently in the Hex will see no real financial windfall due to these changes.
Given the format changes, it seems that progress to the WC would be much easier for Mexico and the US, unless the seeding for being drawn into groups (Rounds 2-4) is completely thrown out the window. Eschewing seeding for a more open, and fair, path to the World Cup would possibly see the US and Mexico set up to face each other much earlier than previous qualifying cycles with the possibility that one may not even make it to the final round of qualifying much less the WC; something I highly doubt FIFA and CONCACAF wish to see.
This all leaves me with the following questions:
Why this format? Will this format change help or hinder the USMNT’s growth down the road?
First we’ll tackle my issues with the format. If the goal is to give more WC Qualifiers to the lesser nations, admittedly we never know what CONCACAF is scheming thinking, then why not something along these lines:
Round 1 – 6 groups of 6 with the top six teams being “top seeds” for the 2014 cycle this would involve those who were in the Hex last time around. (10, though one group only has 5 meaning they’ll play 8 games). Top two move on.
Round 2 – 2 groups of 6 with the top two teams earning their WC tickets. (10)