World Cup Seeding Unlikely to Favor the US

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UPDATE: SINCE THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN, IT HAS SURFACED THAT FIFA MAY CHANGE THE CRITERIA FOR SEEDING TO BE BASED SOLELY ON WORLD RANKINGS. IF SO, THE US IS LIKELY TO BE SEEDED IN THE 2010 WORLD CUP, IF SWITZERLAND AND/OR FRANCE DOES NOT QUALIFY.  IT IS POSSIBLE ONLY ONE OF THOSE TWO NATIONS NOT QUALIFYING COULD ALSO PUT THE US IN A POSITION TO BE SEEDED. OBVIOUSLY WITH TODAY’S HORRIBLE NEWS ABOUT CHARLIE DAVIES, THIS SPECULATION TAKES A BACK SEAT FOR NOW.  HERE IS MORE ON THE POTENTIAL CHANGES TO HOW SEEDING WILL WORK.

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Since the brilliant US win over Honduras on Saturday, the internet has been abuzz with discussion of the potential for the USMNT to receive a top seed in the World Cup. Assuming a victory on Wednesday, the US is likely to be ranked ninth when the new FIFA ranking is released.

However, the chances of the US being a top seed are remote based on the criteria used by FIFA. Perhaps this is not fair, but it is a reality. History and reputation play a bigger role in seeding than anything else.  FIFA will meet on Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years in early December to determine the seeds.

The process allegedly consists of the performances of nations in the last three World Cups as well as FIFA rankings. However, it is likely the performances in other knock out competitions and subjective factors are considered also.

Here are the already qualified nations guaranteed to be top seeds:

South Africa-hosts

England

Brazil

Germany

Spain

Italy

Of the remaining two top seeds, one of the likely recipients is Holland. Despite missing the World Cup in 2002, the Dutch are ranked 3rd in the latest FIFA rankings and they have advanced out of the Group Stage in both the 1998 and 2006 World Cups.

That leaves three nations that are yet to qualify to fight over one seed.

These three nations are France, Portugal and Argentina. If all three qualify, Portugal and Argentina are likely to not be seeded, although it is possible Argentina could bump the Netherlands. Should France qualify, they are assured of a seed.

If all three fail to qualify, FIFA will likely have to find another nation to place in pot one.

Mexico has an outside shot at a seeding, but is likely to be hurt by their FIFA ranking which took a tumble in the Sven Goran Eriksson period, and which has yet to fully recover.

For those skeptics who state that the US always beats Mexico and thus is entitled to seeding consideration over Mexico, please consider the following.

Mexico has advanced out of the Group Stage of the last three World Cups. In that period, Mexico has won five World Cup matches. In the same period, the USA has won only twice (ironically both against teams that could be possibly seeded) and has advanced out of the Group Stage just once.

Secondly, if subjective factors do come into play, the US’ performance at the 2007 Copa America is likely to be a decisive blow. Mexico was dealing with the same quick turnaround issues after the Gold Cup, and the FMF decided to mix their squads, so that while the big name players like Rafa Marquez did get a rest, they were still on the Copa roster and played in the knock out stages. Mexico reached the semi-finals (including a win over champion Brazil in the Group stage) of a tournament that the US finished dead last in.

Sweden fans could rightly complain that England has not beaten the Swedes since 1969, and thus when they have been placed in the same group at the last two World Cups, Sweden and not England should have been the seeded team. But head to head results don’t mean a whole lot in the big picture of FIFA seeding. In fact, they are not even used as a tie-breaker in qualifying.

Winning a World Cup qualifying group which the US is about to do once again, does not matter either. If it did, in the last World Cup, Italy would not have been seeded and Serbia would have been.

Furthermore, a strange theory has developed on the internet that a CONCACAF team always gets seeded. This is simply false. No CONCACAF side was seeded in 1998 or 2002, and Mexico was seeded in 2006, because they finished 8th according to the criteria FIFA established, not because they were from CONCACAF. This time around, as we have outlined already, it is more than likely no team from this region will be seeded.

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