Here at Burgundy Wave, we've prided ourselves on being the guys who, most of the time, dig our feet in and say things like, "Hey, maybe it would be OK if Salt Lake didn't win the Champions League." Or "Hey, maybe New York 2 might not be that great of a deal for American Soccer." I personally am not conservative in most of my dealings in my life, politically or otherwise, but when it comes to soccer commentary, I am kind of proud of the fact that Burgundy Wave digs in our heels while Major League Soccer tries to drag us on another wild ride.
Take this for example. I'll let you read it over and then let's discuss some quotes.
CONCACAF is viewed as a backwater of sorts by many in the international soccer community. If Mexico can pull off a few big results down in Brazil over the next two weeks, in the same manner that the US did in 2009 in South Africa, it only helps the argument that CONCACAF is an emerging force in the global game, something I truly believe in.
This is wrong on some pretty fundamental levels. If you don't examine the quote, or think about what really makes a Confederation considered "strong" by FIFA standards, then you would probably be right there with Greg Lalas. It's pretty simple logic: Team from Confederation A beats Team from Confederation B, therefore, Team from Confederation A's Confederation must be stronger. Sports Logic. Love it.
Right now, this is how FIFA comes up with its rankings, by points gained in international matches won averaged over a 12 month period. The United States currently ranks 28th in the World, 2nd in CONCACAF. Mexico ranks 17 in the World, 1st in CONCACAF. You climb the rankings by winning matches. Here's how FIFA formulates how to judge how many points to award you for a given match.
I'll pull directly from their website for this information. It's pretty basic stuff.
M: Points for match result: Teams gain 3 points for a victory, 1 point for a draw and 0 points for a defeat. In a penalty shoot-out, the winning team gains 2 points and the losing team gains 1 point.
I: Importance of match Friendly match (including small competitions): I = 1.0 FIFA World Cup™ qualifier or confederation-level qualifier: I = 2.5 Confederation-level final competition or FIFA Confederations Cup: I = 3.0 FIFA World Cup™ final competition: I = 4.0
T: Strength of opposing team: The strength of the opponents is based on the formula: 200 – the ranking position of the opponents As an exception to this formula, the team at the top of the ranking is always assigned the value 200 and the teams ranked 150th and below are assigned a minimum value of 50. The ranking position is taken from the opponents’ ranking in the most recently published FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.
C: Strength of confederation: When calculating matches between teams from different confederations, the mean value of the confederations to which the two competing teams belong is used. The strength of a confederation is calculated on the basis of the number of victories by that confederation at the last three FIFA World Cup™ competitions (see following page). Their values are as follows: UEFA/CONMEBOL 1.00 CONCACAF 0.88 AFC/CAF 0.86 OFC 0.85
So, if Mexico wins the Confederations Cup, which one of these metrics is most likely going to increase in a way which will affect the United States Men's National Team, do you think?
If you guessed T, you would be correct. If Mexico wins the Confederations Cup, they will increase their total points averaged over the year, and thus go up the FIFA rankings. "How high?" you may ask?
Well, FIFA actually includes a pretty useful tool for that. So currently, Mexico is ranked at 17 with a total of 928 Points averaged over the year's results. If it pulls out results (and as of press time Mexico has already lost to Italy) for its next matches enough so that it gets the Cup somehow, it will jump up, at most, to maybe 968 Points averaged over the year's results. That's not that impressive. It doesn't even crack the top 10.
That's OK though, any increase in Mexico's rank will increase the T variable, which thus increases the amount of points the United States can win off of Mexico should we beat them in any competition. Which, of course, means absolutely nothing if we lose to them because you get nothing if you lose. Sorry, FIFA is nothing if not horribly cruel.
So Greg Lalas is right when he says this:
It will help Mexico's ranking, which will help the US's ranking when they beat Mexico in September, which will hopefully help the US's seeding at the World Cup.
I mean, it's not that big of a boost to that T variable, though, but it's still a boost, right? And that kinda sorta helps the US in a... kind of barely significant way. But anything helps, right?
However, if that's the case, and what we're rooting for is an increase to the T variable for Mexico, then we should root for Mexico in ALL competitions when they aren't playing us. Because if they win, that makes their T variable jump up!
Yeah, not much of a rivalry then if we're always cheering them on. Kind of hard to swallow if you think of it like that.
But here's the glaring thing, the thing that I think Greg Lalas (and those friend of yours in the pub that agree with him) misses: CONCACAF only has two teams in the top 30 of the World Rankings.
We are also ranked with a .88 Confederation Strength along with CAF, as opposed to the more robust 1.00 enjoyed by CONMEBOL and UEFA.
Why is that?
Let's just look at the rankings. Like I said, CONCACAF only has 2 teams in the top 30 national Men's teams in the world. UEFA has 18. CONMEBOL has 7, and CAF has 3.
The problem isn't that Mexico isn't good enough. That's not the problem at all. The problem is not even that the United States isn't good enough. It's that Panama isn't good enough, Honduras isn't good enough, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Canada aren't good enough. Two giants do not a full strength Confederation make. So plead all you want for FIFA to change their .88 Confederation Strength variable. Make the case that Mexico PROVES that CONCACAF is an up-and-coming Confederation. You're wrong. And deep down, I think you know it.
My point is, contrary to that, it's not Mexico's job to make us feel better about ourselves. Mexico winning a trophy has nothing to do with our strength or weakness as a Confederation of footballing nations. For them, this is about representing their country and their own strength as a footballing nation. It has nothing to do with increasing our strength as a Confederation, but it's tempting to think that it will, right? It's the easy way.
This thinking, that if Mexico succeeds then we will all succeed is, in essence: trickle down soccernomics. It's the self-same logic that states that if NYRB does well, or if LA Galaxy does well, it's in all our best interests as clubs. That self-same prattling logic that says if Real Salt Lake wins the CONCACAF Champion's League, then we all kind of win because it proves our legitimacy as a League.
The solution to the strength of CONCACAF is much more involved that just winning a trophy. Because if Mexico does well while all the other footballing nations of CONCACAF wallow in mediocrity, paralyzed by corruption, by sub-par domestic leagues or limited international opportunity, by political strife in their home countries and all the while young talent goes wasted because of no real opportunity to develop their gifts then what have we really achieved?
If Mexico wins a trophy while officials from CONCACAF gingerly bungle what is supposed to be the top competition for clubs across the Confederation, what has been won for all of us?
If anything, it will seek only to justify the way things are: a Confederation of those that have (Mexico and the United States) and those that continually will struggle (everyone else). And that trophy that Mexico has every right to hold over their heads if they win it is only worth the metal its made of.
Frankly, until all of us start rising, then none of us deserve to rise. And to think that we can borrow some kind of legitimacy with a trophy is absolute hogwash.
And that's why you don't have to root for Mexico in the Confederations Cup.