US (and Mexico) should join Conmebol
And so The U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team advanced to the final round of FIFA World Cup qualifying in the CONCACAF region with an authoritative 6-0 trouncing of Panama at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.
In order to move on to the final round of six, of which three teams will directly qualify for the 2006 World Cup, with the number four playing a head-to-head playoff with the number five of the Asian qualifying region, the U.S. (ranked 11th in the world) had to end in the top two spots in a group that further featured the yet mentioned Panama (103rd), Jamaica (51st) and El Salvador (106th).
In order to actually make its fourth consecutive World Cup-berth, the U.S. must now be among the top three in a final group that will feature CONCACAF-powerhouse and US-archrival Mexico (10th in the world), Costa Rica (32nd), Guatemala (61st), Trinidad and Tobago (64th), and yet again Panama. Yes, the same team the U.S. put a half dozen past just a week ago.
Barren any major disasters, one can assume the U.S. will be among the top three when the final whistle is blown. And while a constant flow of World Cup-appearances might look like a positive development in American soccer, it is the utter lack of competition in the qualifying rounds that is keeping the U.S. (and its players) from making the final jump to the elite level of soccer.
It is this absolute elite of soccer that prepares itself for competition by facing top class opponents on a week to week basis - both on international and club level. Brazil, the current World Champion and number one ranked team in the world, must end in the top four of a qualifying group that features such soccer-forces as Argentina (3rd in the world), Uruguay (17th), Paraguay (23rd) and Colombia (28th).
By being forced to compete at the highest level for their countries, the elite-country players prepare themselves for the highest competition of club level. Brazil’s regular starting line-up is formed goalkeeper Dida (AC Milan, starter), defenders Roberto Carlos (Real Madrid, starter), Lucio (Bayern Munich, starter), Juan (Bayer Leverkusen, starter), Cafu (AC Milan, starter), midfielders Emerson (Juventus Turin, starter), Edmilson (FC Barcelona, starter), Kaka (AC Milan, starter), Ronaldinho (FC Barcelona, starter), and attackers Adriano (Inter Milan, starter) and Ronaldo (Real Madrid, starter).
On the other hand, only four players from the U.S. starting eleven play their club soccer in Europe – at mid-table teams such as Tottenham Hotspur (Kasey Keller, not a starter on his club), Fulham (Carlos Bocanegra, not a starter), Hannover 96 (Clint Mathis, not a starter), and PSV Eindhoven (DeMarcus Beasley, not a starter). Only back-up goalkeeper Tim Howard in on the books of one of Europe’s biggest clubs; Manchester United, where he lost his starting job this season because of a lack of consistency in his performances, and is currently seen as the third option by his coach, Sir Alex Ferguson. All other players on the U.S.-roster play their soccer in the woeful MLS. Even arguably the United States’ best player, Landon Donaovan, is playing his club soccer in the U.S. again after failing to crack the first team at German-side Bayer Leverkusen.
The United States (and Mexico) should ask FIFA permission to separate themselves from the weak CONCACAF after the World Cup of 2006, adding themselves to the far stronger South American (Conmebol) region. In accordance FIFA should grant two extra World Cup spots for 2010 to the Conmebol region – leaving the depleted CONCACAF with 1,5 available spots, while giving the reinforced Conmebol region six.
There is no certainty the U.S. would actually make the 2010 World Cup, but in the long run U.S.-soccer (and its players) would greatly benefit from the enhanced competition, preparing themselves for future success – on club and national level.