After some deliberation I have made the decision that as a fan on the United States national team I am rooting for Costa Rica to lose their two-legged play off with Uruguay. The decision is a mixed one but in the end I feel the right one. Let me explain...
My natural instinct when supporting a team is to pull for the other teams in the same conference or confederation to win they are playing "out of conference/confederation". I went to the University of Wisconsin – Madison. I have a strong dislike for quite a few teams in the Big Ten. But come post season time, I am pulling for all of those teams to win their bowl games and make deep tournament runs. Why? It validates the Wisconsin program when the conference does well.
Following my natural instincts I was ecstatic when Chris Birchall hit a wonder goal for T&T and they went through to the 2006 World Cup. Four CONCACAF teams in the World Cup helps both the USA and the confederation overall. We'll skip over what happened once everyone arrived in Germany and the severe funk that followed.
Fast forward to Oct 15, 2009. USA is coming off a tough few days, Honduras is going crazy and I'm preparing to get my DVR working so I can pull for the Ticos to book their ticket to South Africa. I even debated searching for some Costa Rico gear online, but who am I kidding. With two kids in full time day care that's not money I need to be spending.
Then I started mapping out various scenarios for the draw trying to project where the CONCACAF teams might get slotted. After a solidlook through the numbers I came to the conclusion that my natural instincts were wrong. As a USA fan, I wanted Uruguay to win the play off.
This may "hurt" the long term perception of CONCACAF, but it gives Bradley and company a better shot of making a run in South Africa. My assumptions, any and all of which could be completely wrong.
1. FIFA will use a "pot" system similar to 2006 to complete the draw. 2. There will be four groups of eight. 3. Rules will be in place to prevent teams from matching up against opponents from the same confederation – with the exception of UEFA's 13 teams. 4. The seeded teams will be South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, and five UEFA teams. They will constitute Pot 1. 5. Pot 2 will include the eight remaining UEFA teams. 6. Pots 3 and 4 will be made up of the unseeded teams from AFC (4 or 5 teams), CAF (5), CONCACAF (3 or 4), CONMEBOL (2 or 3) and OFC (0 or 1).
Given these assumptions, the ideal pot for the USA to be in is the one with the five teams from CAF because none of these teams can be drawn into the group with South Africa. That leaves the remaining three teams with a 33% chance of being drawn with the weakest of the eight seeded teams (no disrespect to the hosts intended). The other two teams get the benefit of avoiding an African team playing a World Cup on their own continent for the first time.
The key number in that scenario though is three. As in three teams in the pot with the five African teams. Currently there are three CONCACAF teams qualified for the World Cup, a perfect fit to bring that pot up to eight teams.
Lets look at the scenarios that can play out depending on the results of the two inter continental play off match ups.
Scenario A – Uruguay and New Zealand win. AFC with four teams, CAF five, CONCACAF three, CONMEBOL three and OFC one.
Scenario B – Uruguay and Bahrain win. AFC with five teams, CAF five, CONCACAF three, CONMEBOL three and OFC none.
Scenario C – Costa Rica and New Zealand win. AFC with four teams, CAF five, CONCACAF four, CONMEBOL two and OFC one.
Scenario D – Costa Rica and Bahrain win. AFC with five teams, CAF five, CONCACAF four, CONMEBOL two and OFC none.
In the event of a Uruguay win (scenarios A & B) we have both CONMEBOL and CONCACAF with three teams. In the 2006 draw the CONCACAF teams were in the same pot as the AFC teams and the CONMEBOL teams were in with the CAF teams. Given the option, my bet (ok, another assumption) is that FIFA flips it and puts CONCACAF and CAF together.
In scenario C the AFC and CONCACAF both have four teams and slot together nicely leaving New Zealand to join Chile and Paraguay in the pot with the CAF teams.
Scenario D leaves FIFA with some juggling to do since they will have the AFC and CAF with five teams each and CONCACAF with four. No combination of which adds up to an even eight teams. I can only guess what they do with this one, maybe draw one of the CONCACAF teams at random to slot in with Chile and Paraguay? At that point we'd have a 50/50 shot of being in the "ideal" pot.
We'll know more when they kick off the second leg in Uruguay of course since either Bahrain or New Zealand will already be in.
Things that could happen to throw of my little analysis, none of which I think is going to happen:
1. Argentina is somehow not seeded. The CONMEBOL number is now three or four. Better for the USA if Uruguay wins as a four team CONMEBOL would not be matched in the same pot with the five from CAF.
2. Mexico is seeded – the CONCACAF number of unseeded teams is now two or three. Better for us if Costa Rica is in as our three teams would match up nicely with the five from CAF.
3. USA gets a seed – all is right in the world and my entire exercise becomes a fun, but ultimately pointless, way to spend my time.