April 2010

Has The US Outgrown CONCACAF?

The United States and Mexico are, undoubtedly, the giants of North American football. In the ten times the Gold Cup has been contested, only once has another country, Canada in 2000, managed to claim the top prize in CONCACAF. They’re the most populous countries, with the biggest economies, the highest profile domestic leagues, and the most famous national team players. Internationally, they’re the most successful and highest ranked of all CONCACAF nations. The matches played between these two regional powers are highly anticipated and hard-fought contests. CONCACAF gets plenty from having the US (and Mexico) under its aegis.

But what is the US getting from this relationship? Not a whole lot, when you look at it.

The United States has the ambition and resources to reach the upper echelons of the world’s football hierarchy, but it will be difficult while playing against CONCACAF nations. Of the Confederation’s 40 member associations, just ten are in the top 100 of the FIFA world ranking, and only the US and Mexico are in the top 30. Comparatively, all of CONMEBOL’s ten members are inside the top 60, along with a staggering 33 teams from UEFA. Even the AFC has 23 nations in the top 100. The United States simply does not get the regular competition that other nations at the same level do, and while that ensures easier qualification, it hinders the team’s progress in the long run. The logic is simple: If you want to be the best, you have to play the best. And at the moment, two games against Mexico and a couple of tricky away qualifiers every cycle won’t prepare the United States as well as the rigorous qualifying competitions in South America or Europe.

In short, I think the US needs a change of scenery. In my opinion, the USMNT and American soccer would be better served as part of CONMEBOL, the governing body of South American football. The competition is better, the level of exposure is higher, and the quality of soccer played far outstrips the brand normally seen here. And wouldn’t welcoming Brazil and Argentina draw a lot more coverage and fans than Panama and Jamaica do? There is a precedent, as well. Australia switched from Oceania to Asia for similar reasons in 2007.

It would, admittedly, be more difficult to qualify for the World Cup, but the benefits of such a move cannot be underestimated. MLS clubs would take part not in the half ignored CONCACAF Champions League, but in the famed Copa Libertadores. Major League Soccer would acquire new relevance in influential and powerful footballing nations, bringing in better foreign players and pushing American players to improve. And the USMNT would be trying itself in the much more brutal Copa America and CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying competitions.

An interesting, and very positive side effect of this proposal would be the weakening of the influence of the worst cancer on the world’s game, CONCACAF President and FIFA Vice-President Jack Warner. One of the most contemptibly corrupt officials in any International organization, CONCACAF has been polluted, and its quality diluted, by a score of rotten borough type federations set up for the sole purpose of keeping Warner in power (For example, the tiny island of Saint Martin, which has a population of just under 75,000, or slightly less than Edmond, Oklahoma, has two federations, Saint-Martin and Sint Maarten, giving them more votes than the entire US). And he abuses that power by treating CONCACAF, and thus the US, as his own personal cash cow. After receiving over $27 million for Trinidad and Tobago’s participation in the 2006 World Cup, Warner’s Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation claimed revenues of under $3 million and costs of $2.8 million, offering the players less than $1,000 apiece, after Warner himself had negotiated a payment and bonus package totaling over $14 million. During the same World Cup, Warner’s family made over $1 million selling World Cup tickets on the black market, and paid just a quarter of the million dollar fine from FIFA, which has apparently been forgotten.

The US is ready for this move. The American national team and domestic league have both grown by leaps and bounds in the past two decades, and swiftly fading are the times when nations like Trinidad, Panama, and Guatemala provided stern, telling tests of American mettle. The USSF needs to push this country to achieve its potential, and the best place for that to happen is south of the border.

Keith Hickey is a contributing writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at USArsnl@gmail.com.

Keith Hickey

  • Brandon

    You are aware that the United States is in North America not south america, right?

  • Tim

    That hasn’t stopped the US from competing in CONMEBOL tournaments like the Copa America before.

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  • SpursDave

    That’s all well and good, but why would CONMEBOL want them exactly? And don’t you think that a large majority of the other nations in CONCACAF would want exactly the same privilege if the US were allowed to join CONMEBOL?

    Mexican teams competing in the Copa Libertadores is a completely different ball game. There is little additional travel required and the Mexican television rights and advertising opportunities are highly lucrative.

  • CONMEBOL would be interested in the USA and Mexico for one simple reason: more World Cup spots for CONMEBOL. Right now, South America gets 4 automatic bids and a play-in game for 5th. Move the USA and Mexico from CONCACAF to CONMEBOL, and they easily get 6 automatic bids out of 12. Fans in Chile, Uruguay, Ecuador and Colombia wouldn’t mind that at all.

    That said, the USA and Mexico won’t switch anytime soon, because it’s so much easier to get to the World Cup through CONCACAF, and MLS clubs would care so little about the Copa Lib that they’d get bounced out of it in a hurry.

  • Christopher

    Bad Idea.

    OK, how about this. lets just have a North American region of 3 countries, and only ONE spot goes to World Cup like they used to do in Oceania. Yeah, that would work REALLY good for the US efforts to be guaranteed a World Cup spot every your years.

    There’s nothing wrong with being the one of two big fish in the CONCACAF pond loaded with perch and minnows. I suggest its worked very well for US soccer for the last two decades.

  • Tim

    What about the other 37 countries represented in CONCACAF? Do they even get a chance to qualify?

    Plus fighting with Mexico every four years for one WC spot seems pretty intimidating to say the least.

  • Alexander

    The issue with this is simply put, neither side truly benefits from this arrangement. On a club level MLS sides with their limits on roster size, lack of a reserve league and salary make it impossible to compete properly in a tournament like the Copa Libertadores. As it stands now teams who make it to the Concacaf Champions League suffer from having more fixtures than the limited roster size can accommodate forcing teams to choose a priority of either the MLS of CCL and sadly most choose MLS.
    On the Conmebol side having American teams participate in the Libertadores does little for them. One of the large benefits of including Mexican sides was the fact it produced strong competition and additional revenue, as stated before with MLS sides struggling to compete in the CCL because of the roster size limitations, what chance will the stand when you now add to that great lengths of travel? From a competition standpoint it makes no sense. And from a money sense which is what really rules in the end what benefit does conmebol see from sending its teams here, as hopefully as i be, i don’t see people getting excited for a midweek game against a team like caracas fc or alianza lima, and the same can be said for a teams in south america hosting a dc united or san jose earthquakes.

    On a National team level what sense does it make for the United States? By putting yourself in Conmebol you now are no longer sure of a place in the world cup, as you are in Concacaf. The United States missing a World Cup would be a terrible thing for the development of soccer here. Any hopes of truly becoming a world power depend on the ability to convince young kids to get into soccer, and the best way to do that is feature it at its highest stage, having to go through the grinder that is Conmebol Qualifying has no benefits because of the suddenly very real danger of no qualifying for World Cups.
    And then if you are a mid-level South American team what benefit do you see from allowing the USMNT to participate in your tournament? Suddenly it gets ever harder for you to qualify because there is a now a talented team with a nation full of money to invest in you need to worry about. Why would you vote to make your life harder as a team?

    The solution to me is simple, and thats the Concacaf teams need to become better as a whole for the good of teams like Mexico, Costa Rica and the United States and its on those very teams to make it happen. Unfortunately too many of the National Federations are run by crooks and clowns who don’t have the best interest of their teams in mind, only those of their pockets. And unfortunately it starts up top with Jack Warner. It should be on the top teams in the federation to join together and force change. Central American can produce great talent, and should if properly invested in. Watching Salvadorean or Guatemalan soccer matches as I sometimes do its sad to see the state of what some of these teams call home stadiums. Simple investment into these leagues and into the system as whole will improve it by leaps and insure that the competition becomes greater. The atmosphere and passion is there, playing in some of these stadiums is hostile as playing anywhere in the world, its simply the quality of play that needs to rise and there is no reason it can’t.

    However until Jack Warner and so many other clowns in concacaf aren’t forced out this situation may never come to be.