Are The States Sweet 16?

A hockey game broke out in the comment section of our previous piece.

By hook or crook, the US is a top 16 team? (Sorry, I use this pic a lot, just really dig it)

The question?

“Is the United States Men’s National Team a top 16 team?”

My contention–which I admit is unique and highly debatable–is that–in a World Cup year–success and ranking is wholly predicated on the results of the World Cup.

The United States made it to the second round, composed of sixteen teams, and thus in my opinion they are a top global team. I did add–though FIFA ranking can be highly discredited–that the World Cup technical analysis that came out today has the United States at 12th.

So please let’s create and debate, using whatever methodology you want.

32 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Soccernst on 2010/09/02 at 5:14 PM

    I feel the reason this is so hotly debated is bacause the US is on the upper cusp of second tier nations. I think we are top 16, but only just barely. At the cup we were one of the worst teams in the round of 16, and our path forward was against other teams fighting to make a case that they belong in the top 16. If we beat Ghana that in no way makes us top 8. That makes us lucky in the draw. Is uraguay top 8… Maybe but prolly not. But they made the final 4 which is why we love sports. At the end of the day I think we are far more likely to lose to the team ranked 30th than to beat the team ranked 10th, so there’s still work to be done. Go yanks!


    • Posted by Antonio H. on 2010/09/02 at 5:38 PM

      what criteria do you use to judge which team was the worst of the knockout stages?


      • Posted by Soccernst on 2010/09/02 at 7:58 PM

        This is not exacting science, but one has to say our group was not the strongest to begin with, and we backed into first place at the last second. It is also gut feeling: how many of the last 16 could you honestly go in EXPECTING a win. Few. Our path to the final was about as smooth as you’ll ever see. Though, against every team in the last 16 we could win against on our day. I agree with ryan’s list below, but if I take off my red white and blue glasses, I can see other teams make cases make the same case for inclusion.


        • Posted by Soccernst on 2010/09/02 at 7:59 PM

          Sorry for the ridiculous scentence structure in there.


        • Posted by Antonio H. on 2010/09/03 at 11:02 AM

          By your standards most would say we were the worst *performers* in the last 16. But I’m positive we’d defeat Paraguay, Japan, Mexico, & Korea


        • Posted by chris on 2010/09/03 at 3:02 PM

          I disagree with your theory on the US being one of the worst teams in the last of 16 round. I disagree because we played very good soccer. It is not the US’s fault that they just barely qualified for the round of 16. They had done enough. They had TWO huge goals taken away that forced us to have to overcome terrible refereeing. If those two goals stand as they should have the US comes in riding very strong to the next round. The US played great attacking soccer minus the England game where it was more of a “let’s see who wears down first” types of games.
          Against Slovenia, we had a terrible opening half, but then we overcame it by having a phenomenal second half that canceled out how bad we were. They scored three goals in the second half. That’s amazing for a World Cup game. The last one was a goal and it’s a robbery that it was taken away.
          And finally against Algeria we just flat out took the game to them. Dempsey’s goal early in the first half was legit and should have stood. It was a back breaker to have another one taken away. It’s not the players fault because they really did do enough to win. They played great and the goals that they scored prove it whether they counted or they were wrongly called back.
          I also disagree with your statement that we had a smooth ride to get to the next round. Honestly I don’t think there are smooth roads in the WC. Italy supposedly had a smooth road but didn’t make it to the next round. Spain even lost to Switzerland. It’s not easy games even though I know what you mean, we should beat those types of teams (Algeria, Slovenia). But it’s never really smooth.


        • Posted by Soccernst on 2010/09/06 at 12:52 PM

          For the record the spirit if my comments us intended to be similar to others here. Top 16? Yes. Should have chosen a different words than “one of the worst” what I mean by this is I think were in the 10-16 range and all of the teams in this area could make a case against each other. I’m not Positive we beat Mex Jpn SKor Paraguay. I would rank us in and possibly at the top of this list of teams, 12? Yeah we could be 12.

          Chris, to your second point, sure no game is a cake walk at the WC. But if you said: play Ghana then uraguay for a shot at the WC final, you’d have to be pretty happy with that.


  2. Posted by Ryan R. on 2010/09/02 at 5:31 PM

    I definitely see us as a top 16 team. It simply came down to me looking and trying to find 16 better teams. I couldn’t do it. Spain, Netherlands, Brazil, Germany, Argentina and Uruguay make up my upper crust of teams right now. So right there, we have six teams. Are there 10 more better than the US? Right now, until France and Italy figure out what their direction is, I would put the Yanks ahead of them. Portugal, Chile, Paraguay and Ghana gets nods ahead of us as well so there’s 10. Then, I would put the US in a group with England and South Korea that make us 11-14. I can’t find any other World Cup teams that I think are as good as the US and if we were going on pure quality, I would toss Croatia and Russia in there, but qualifying for the World Cup and having some sort of success there is a huge tieberaker, with teams like Serbia and Australia in the mix of the group right behind us.


  3. Posted by dikranovich on 2010/09/02 at 6:05 PM

    i think usa is top ten, based on talent. you put rossi and subotic on the team, and we might be top five. i would have been glad to give ghana the great essian, if it meant the usa would have a fully fit jermaine jones, cd9 and gooch. use will definately be top ten before 2014.


  4. Posted by jwrandolph on 2010/09/02 at 7:58 PM

    I think its hard to argue that the United States is not a top 16, although if you look at rankings as an “average,” then I think we have a larger range than most teams. For instance, I think that the US will be consistently competitive against teams ranked both fifth and 30th, never getting too comfortable and never winning or losing by more than a goal. Maaaaaaybe two. A lot of that is that it takes time to instill a winning mentality, but I think that the consistency is one of the greatest things holding us back, particularly in the rankings. If you look at the first 20 minutes of the recent Brazil game, or the 2nd half of the Slovenia games, I think we’re playing at the level of a 3-5 ranking. Its inspired, its exciting, its skilled, but its by the seat of the pants. If you look at the other halves of those games, we look like a 30-40 ranked team, at best. While the US probably plays 3/10 of our halves as a top 10 team, Spain and Brazil play 9/10 full games with a similar level of intensity.

    Here’s an experiment. I like the method Ryan used. Are there 16 teams better than us? How consistently? What if we tried to list the teams and set our odds of beating them. When we are getting to teams we are beating 1/2 times, we’re in the right range of where we should be.

    1 Spain – 1/20
    2 Brazil – 1/12
    3 Germany – 1/8
    4 Argentina – 1/5
    5 Netherlands – 1/5
    6 England – 1/3
    7 Uruguay – 1/3
    8 Portugal – 1/3
    9 Chile – 2/5
    10 England – 2/5

    And I honestly think that is where we are starting to get to 1/2 and better scenarios. Egypt? Serbia? France? Greece? Austrailia? Italy? Paraguay? Ghana? These are all teams that either lost to lesser squads than ours in the World Cup or didn’t make it. So being on the bubble of the top 12-16 seems like the right place to me.

    That said, we still lose too many games to Costa Rica and Honduras and even the Ghanas. We need to be more consistent, and thats why I agree with the ethic of many on this site that we need to treat more friendlies and qualifiers as critical competitions if we want to raise our game. If we can do that, then I don’t doubt we will approach Rio as a top 10 team.

    (this is my first significant comment here. I’ve really enjoyed lurking and hearing the great insight from the editors and readers of this site. Thanks for all your hard work.)


    • Posted by jwrandolph on 2010/09/03 at 6:08 AM

      Just realized I included England in there twice…and with different scores. (?!)

      If it wasn’t obvious, I’m just trying to get in Fabio Capello’s head. See you in Group C 2014 sucka!


      • Posted by Faith on 2010/09/06 at 7:02 AM

        Also, this comment made me laugh. As someone who’s at work on Labor Day, I thank you for that.


    • Posted by Faith on 2010/09/06 at 6:59 AM

      I think you make an excellent point about consistency. When we’re on our game, we’re fairly unstoppable — which makes it all the more frustrating that we don’t ALWAYS play that way. On a good day, we’re top 16, no question, but I’ve seen enough mediocre play to have doubts.


  5. Posted by Standard Deviance on 2010/09/02 at 9:49 PM

    The notion that WC performance is an absolute indicator team strength is simplistically results-oriented thinking. Everton had the better of play vs Villa last weekend, yet Villa won. Spurs had an off day and lost to Wigan. Does that mean Villa is definitively better than Everton and Wigan is definitively better than Spurs? Of course not. If you play those game 100 times, Spurs wins 80 of them and Villa and Everton are probably around even. Poker players understand this intuitively: if you all-in as a 75% favorite, you’re still going to lose a quarter of the time. Point being, there’s a good amount of variance involved in any given result, as well as over the course of a whole tournament.

    That said, I do think the US is a top 16 team. But I also think that what really matters in this kind of ranking is where the steep drop offs in talent level occur, not the absolute numerical ranking. The teams from about 12-24 are pretty tightly bunched together in terms of talent level, to the point where many of them are pretty interchangeable. If we are indeed the 12th best team in the world, we’re probably a lot closer in talent level to the 20th best team than we are to the 11th.


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/09/03 at 5:34 AM

      I understand 100% what you’re saying and agree with you to a certain extent, but isn’t the pressure to perform and not having an off-day, part and parcel of the World Cup (and elite sport in general)?

      +1 for 2nd paragraph.


  6. Posted by Freegle on 2010/09/02 at 10:02 PM

    I love this question. It’s really tough though because it has no real parameters (everyone would have their own system) and because once you get into the 15-30 range, there is a lot of parity.

    I thought about it two ways and came up with just about the same list. The first… if we play our best game and theiy play their best game, who wins? Second… If we played one another 10 times on neutral soil, who wins more? This way we eliminate one game fluke wins, and differences in form.

    IMO, those better than us based on these categories are (in no particular order): Spain, Brazil. Argentina, Holland, Italy, France, England, Uruguay, Chile, Portugal, Germany, and Greece. That’s 12 teams I consider definites. There are a bunch more that I think we play to draws with under these circumstances: Ivory Coast, Paraguay, Mexico, Serbia, Russia, Czech Rep, South Korea, Ghana, Switzerland, Nigeria, and Egypt. Including the USA, thats a second group of 12 teams. So, I would say we are right in the thick of things.

    As a fan, I say we are top 16.
    As a lover of all things objective, I have see no clear evidence that we are top 16.

    Put me down as a mabe (yes i know thats a cop out.)


    • I like this response, and seeing as it seems my rather nitpicky comment in the last post spurred this debate I should probably weigh in.

      First, my comment was never meant to give the impression that the USA is definitely not top 16, rather that I, personally, don’t use the World Cup as a direct way of rating teams (besides, maybe, the top four or five, give or take).

      I like this comment because it recognizes the similarity you get in teams all the way from around 12-13 to 30 in the rankings.

      The way I think of it is this, if a friendly were called for tomorrow, what is the squad that would be there, and where would they rank at this moment. If this were the case USMNT, in my mind, would not be top 16. They would still easily be top 25, maybe 20 if I listed out teams and did the work, but I do not see them top 16, calling only fit players right now.

      I don’t like using “what-ifs” because they hardly, if ever, come to be true (like “What if Charlie Davies, Gooch pre knee injury, Jermaine Jones, and Danny Mwanga gets called up). I hope you will understand why I stray away from those.

      Sure this is probably a unique and strange way to do my personal rankings, but the issue I see the USMNT having in these rankings is that their top, fully fit lineup is top 16, but their lineup as it stands now, with the injuries, is not, because the player pool depth just isn’t there (not to mention Bob’s refusal to try people like Buddle).


      • Posted by jwrandolph on 2010/09/02 at 10:53 PM

        What do you mean he didn’t try Buddle?


        • I mean, he brought him to South Africa, but didn’t use him at all, even though Gomez never proved to be a superior option in any way.


        • Posted by bunkel on 2010/09/03 at 5:29 AM

          Actually, Buddle played for 15 minutes or so against England and around a half hour against Algeria.


    • Posted by patrickhattrick on 2010/09/03 at 5:22 AM

      I wouldn’t bet against the USA’s best game no matter who they were playing. The problem is we only see their best game at times when we least expecting it, i.e. Confederations Cup. I think that really is what separates the best from the rest, how often we see their best game. The top 5 or so teams in the world aren’t included in that equation, because IMO they have enough stars to live on skill alone. In other words, their best game is almost always on the field. USA is a little bit like Rambo. It goes around getting pushed around(not like Rambo) but then it goes on destructive rages destroying anyone in its way. It needs to get mad first. (i.e. Slovenia game)

      Anyways, that was one of the weirdest comments I’ve ever posted. It started out normal, and I’m pretty sure I had a direction I was going in, but WOW.


      • JW Randolph’s “seat of the pants” comment above got me thinking of another 80’s classic – Top Gun. The US does seem to have a bit of Maverick in them (though without as much moxie), and sometimes against the lesser teams we’d rather see them with more Iceman.


    • Posted by John Henry on 2010/09/03 at 5:57 AM

      To me there are the elite teams (currently: Spain, Brazil, Netherlands, Germany, Argentina) that are consistently good, and consistently beat everyone except each other. After that, there are a whole bunch of good teams (from 6 to about 30) that can beat each other on any given day, but will usually lose to those top-5 teams. The USA is somewhere in the middle of those 25 teams, in my opinion.

      If you look at the official FIFA rankings, you might agree. The top-5 teams are obvious. But then the 6th team is Uruguay. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the USA would beat Uruguay 4/10 times, maybe even 6/10. But then look at the 30th team, Nigeria. I don’t think it’s a stretch either to say that the USA would LOSE 4/10 to Nigeria or even 6/10. There’s just a lot of parity outside of those elite teams.

      What do you guys think?


      • This actually nails it for me, great post (jwrandolph’s post above with his odds hits on a similar idea).

        I’d be willing to bet, were we to play a season with teams #6 to #20 or so, you’d end up with a bunch of .400-.600 records.


  7. Posted by Shane_K83 on 2010/09/02 at 10:09 PM

    No.. Top 25 IMO.


  8. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/09/03 at 5:18 AM

    I must admit, I do think that Matt makes a decent point about World Cup performance and rankings. But IMO I think you need to be careful about this as it’s not as binary as that – what about if two countries (Portugal and Germany) are knocked out by Spain for example? One in the Last 16 (Portugal) and one in the SF (Germany)? Couldn’t you say it was slightly lucky that Germany only faced Spain in the SFs? I know both scores were 1-0, but what happens if Spain beat Portugal 1-0 in the Last 16 and beat Germany 3-0 in the SF? Are Netherlands really better than Germany because they reached the final (and didn’t have to play Spain en route)? Doesn’t that add a little more weight to my “argument’?

    For what it’s worth, I do consider the US to be a top-16 side. But I do have an issue with statements like that because I feel people make the assumption that there is ‘equal spacing’ as you go down the rankings. I think there are 4 or 5 teams who are head and shoulders above everybody else at the moment. And then there are a *lot* of countries, maybe 15 who are very close together – and the USA is in this second lump of countries, i.e. Team 19 is closer to Team 7 than 6 is to 5 if that makes sense…


  9. Posted by Daniel on 2010/09/03 at 6:28 AM

    I agree that we are a top 16 team in the world for many of the reasons previously stated. I also can’t think of 16 teams better than us (when we’re at 100%), though I can think of more than 16 capable of beating us. With our reasonable consistency and some excellent tourney showings under Bradley, I think it’s harder to make the argument we aren’t top 16, as we are regularly at the top of our confederation and going fairly deep into FIFA tournaments.

    I really wanted to comment because of the picture, though. That picture spawned my favorite soccer quote of all time.

    “My first instinct was to cross, but then I shot it at his head. I figured he wouldn’t want to get hit in the face”- Landon Donovan.

    Let us never forget those words of wisdom in our own games.


    • Posted by Faith on 2010/09/06 at 7:08 AM

      I also can’t think of 16 teams better than us (when we’re at 100%), though I can think of more than 16 capable of beating us.


      Also, I hadn’t heard that Donovan quote before. That’s pretty awesome. (=


  10. Posted by nathan on 2010/09/03 at 9:03 AM

    “top Premiership side…”

    Since when does mid-table= Top ?


  11. Posted by Freegle on 2010/09/04 at 6:47 AM

    Here’s some good news moving ust toward the top teir one day:


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