World Cup Data Analysis: Part V – Application to Upcoming 2018 World Cup in Russia

By @k2thedubs

To download the PDF document in full, click here – World Cup White Paper.


In this section, I will evaluate how we can apply our learnings to the 2018 World Cup, whether for pleasure or perhaps financial gain in the betting markets.

First, I have grouped teams into cohorts based on insights from many of the analyses performed herein, ELO ratings, and the ease or difficulty of the World Cup draw.

Cohort #1 – Title Favorites

  • Germany, Brazil, France, Spain, Argentina

Cohort #2 – Contenders

  • Belgium, England, Portugal, Colombia, Uruguay

Cohort # 3 – Expect to Reach Knockout Rounds

  • Mexico, Switzerland, Croatia, Denmark, Russia, Poland

Cohort #4 – Chance to Reach Knockout Rounds

  • Sweden, Peru, Iceland, Senegal, Serbia

Cohort #5 – Need a Lot of Help to Advance from Group Stages

  • Costa Rica, Egypt, Japan, South Korea, Iran, Nigeria

Cohort #6 – Unlikely to Advance from Group Stages

  • Australia, Panama, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia

Exhibit AA: Composite Comparison – World Cups from 1998 – 2014 vs European-Hosted World Cups

Image 35

The visual above displays the composite World Cup results from the past five World Cups (shown earlier in Part I) alongside the composite World Cup results from the past two European World Cups (in 1998 and 2006). I analyze the impact by confederation of playing a World Cup on European soil below.


  • No impact for countries #1-5
  • 3-6 place boost for countries #6-14


  • No impact for countries #1-2
  • 1-4 place drop for countries #3-5


  • 4-6 place drop for all countries


  • 4 place drop for country #1
  • Minimal impact for countries #2-5


  • 3 place drop for country #1
  • Minimal impact for countries #2-4

I have furnished my predictions below, which are largely informed by the insights from the analyses uncovered as part of this research.

Exhibit AB: Kyle’s 2018 World Cup Predictions by Group (in order of expected finish)

Image 36

Exhibit AC: Kyle’s 2018 World Cup Knockout Round Predictions

Image 37

When I think about this World Cup, I believe the World Cup champion will come down to one of the five teams in cohort # 1 – Germany, Brazil, France, Spain, Argentina. Upon analyzing the player pools, I was surprised to conclude that Brazil and Argentina are not as strong, neither in depth nor top quality, as the three European teams. Argentina has weaknesses in the midfield and defense and Brazil has some question marks in central defense and midfield depth.

My assessment of Germany, France, and Spain surprised me as well. France has the most depth and is going to leave some supremely talented players at home.  Among attacking options at their disposal, they will have to whittle down among the following group – Griezmann, Giroud, Lacazette, and Gameiro as central forwards and Dembele, Mbappe, Coman, Martial, Fekir, Lemar, and Payet as wingers.

Germany is very talented and has the track record of performing exceptionally well at the World Cup, but I am reluctant to predict a repeat champion since it has not occurred in over fifty years. As a result, I’m predicting Spain to win the World Cup. I think they are the most balanced team with elite players at every position with lots of depth and versatility.

In evaluating the draw, it’s difficult to see any top teams failing to make the knockout rounds, though the World Cup tends to have a few surprises in the Group Stages so we’ll have to wait and see if there are any early exits. However, the top teams would be wise to win their groups to avoid some potentially explosive Round of 16 matchups, which could feature France vs Argentina and Brazil vs Germany.

Exhibit AD: Comparison – World Cups from 1998 – 2014 vs European-Hosted World Cups vs Predictions

Image 38

The visual above compares the aforementioned composites to my predictions made earlier. As you can see, my predictions largely align with the historical performance trends illustrated by the composite results. The main divergence in my predictions relative to the composite results of the last two World Cups hosted in Europe is CAF 1, the best performing team from CAF. Based on the World Cup draw, I don’t foresee any CAF team advancing from the Group Stages.

In terms of interesting bets[1], I’m intrigued by the Top Goalscorer odds.

Image 39

I love Messi and expect he’ll do great, but I worry Argentina will play 1-3 games less than other teams so I am going to look elsewhere for my recommendation. It’s tempting to choose a French or Spanish player since I forecast those countries to reach the Finals. However, neither France nor Spain have an outright talisman who I expect to score five or more goals and are likely to share the scoring load among several players. Additionally, each country’s track record raises some question marks. France’s goal scoring has been extremely erratic at the World Cup, and Spain has never scored more than 10 goals at a World Cup, including their victory in 2010.

If history is any indication, the smart money suggests selecting a Brazilian or a German. Those countries meet all the criteria in choosing a Golden Boot winner – they tend to advance deep into the tournament and consistently score lots of goals. Based on past performance, Brazil and Germany should each safely expect to reach at least the Quarter-Finals and to score at least 10 goals.

It’s enticing to go with a Brazilian because I can see them racking up goals, but there is risk of goal scoring by committee with the pair of Barcelona compatriots, Paulinho[2] and Coutinho, complimenting the frontline firepower of Neymar and Jesus with marauding runs forward from the midfield. Neymar and Jesus are each likely to find the back of the net multiple times, but I don’t like their value relative to their odds (10:1 and 20:1, respectively).

Through process of elimination, I believe a German is the best choice for Golden Boot, and I would place my bet on Timo Werner (at 16:1). Germany is a safe bet to play a lot of games and score a lot of goals, and he is the most likely candidate to score goals in bunches as he is a pure finisher. Though, it’s worth noting that Germany has two other compelling options. Thomas Muller (at 25:1) has finished first and second in the last two World Cups so he must be seriously considered in any Golden Boot conversation and Leroy Sane (at 66:1) is intriguing given his tremendous goal scoring form for Manchester City this season.

In terms of a sleeper, I think Mbappe (at 33:1) is a good value bet for the odds since his upside is massive. He is likely to advance deep into the knockout rounds, should play lots of minutes, and should be involved in lots of goal scoring opportunities.


ICYMI, please refer to Part I Introduction & Evaluation of Performance by Confederation.

ICYMI, please refer to Part II Evaluation of Performance by Country.

ICYMI, please refer to Part III Evaluation of Performance by and within Confederations.

ICYMI, please refer to Part IV Trends & Insights on Performances by Confederation and Country.


For those interested, please refer to my companion piece on the implications of this analysis on the USMNT.




General Resources


[1] Per Bet365

[2] Who has had the Midas Touch in the past 18 months, scoring loads of goals for club and country.


World Cup Data Analysis: Part IV – Trends & Insights on Performances by Confederation and Country

By @k2thedubs

To download the PDF document in full, click here – World Cup White Paper.


The table below ranks all 208 individual country performances over the last seven World Cups based on the following criteria – Goal Differential, Total Points, and Place.

Exhibit W: Country Performance Ranking from 1990 – 2014

Image 27

Image 28

Image 29

Image 30

Image 31

The list above ranks the individual country performances at the World Cup in order from best to worst. The notes that follow highlight various takeaways.

Dominant, Nearly Flawless Performances

  • Brazil (2002), Germany (2014), and France (1998) had the three best performances ever. They each went undefeated with at least six wins and +13 Goal Differential.

Notable Performances

  • Germany (2002) is the first non-Champion performance (#7) mainly due to its +11 Goal Differential, which is tied for fourth best.
  • Spain (2010) is the lowest rated Champion performance (#8) due to its +6 Goal Differential. They only scored eight goals the entire tournament.
  • Brazil (2006) and Colombia (2014) each had the best non-Semi-Finalist performances (#19 and #20) where they won four games, finished in fifth place, and had a +8 Goal Differential.
  • The top 34 performances were all from UEFA or CONMEBOL countries.
  • The first non-traditional countries appear among performances #15-23 related to uncharacteristically deep runs – Croatia (1998), Sweden (1994), Colombia (2014), and Turkey (2002).
  • Quarter-Final runs from powerhouse nations appear high on the list – Argentina (2006, 2010, 1998), Italy (1998), Spain (2002), and France (2014).
  • Argentina (1990) is the lowest Runner-Up finish with only two wins and a +1 Goal Differential. They won two of their knockout round games on penalty kicks, which are recorded as ties.
  • Spain (2006) has the best non-Quarter-Finalist performance (#43) where they won three games, finished in ninth place, and had a +5 Goal Differential. In hindsight, this performance was a harbinger of the historic three-peat that followed in the Euros (’08 and ’12) and World Cup (’10).
  • Costa Rica (2014) is the highest non-UEFA, non-CONMEBOL performance (#45) other than South Korea (2002), who benefited from being the co-host nation.
  • Bulgaria (1994) is the lowest Semi-Final finish with only three wins and a negative (-1) Goal Differential.
  • Every Mexico performance, all Round of 16 exits, occurs within #60-102.

Country Performance Trends

  • Germany
    • Won 5 or more games and reached at least the SF in 5 of 7 World Cups
      • Won 3 games and reached QF in both 1994 and 1998 (prior to Das Reboot)
    • Scored 14 or more goals in 5 of 7 World Cups
      • Scored 8 and 9, respectively, in 1994 and 1998
    • Lost 1 game or less in 6 of 7 World Cups
      • 2 losses and 3rd place in 2010
    • 5 of the Top 9 Goal Differential performances
    • At least 10 Points in all 7 World Cups
  • Brazil
    • Won 3 or more games in all 7 World Cups
    • Lost 1 game or less in 5 of 7 World Cups
      • 2 losses and 2nd place in 1998 and 2 losses and 4th place in 2014
    • Scored 10 goals or more in 5 of 7 World Cups
      • Scored 4 and 9, respectively, in 1990 and 2010
    • At least 9 Points in all 7 World Cups
  • Italy
    • Only won more than 1 game once since 1998
      • Won 5 games in their World Cup victory in 2006
    • Double digits Points in 1990, 1994, 1998 and 2006 World Cups
      • 4 Points or less in 2002, 2010, and 2014 World Cups
    • Lost 1 game or less in 5 of 7 World Cups
      • 2 losses and 15th place in 2002 and 2 losses and 22nd place in 2014
    • Conceded 5 or less goals in all 7 World Cups
  • Argentina
    • Only won more than 3 games in 2 World Cups (2010 and 2014)
    • Lost 1 game or less in 5 of 7 World Cups
      • 2 losses and 2nd place in 1990 and 2 losses and 10th place in 1994
    • Positive Goal Differential in 6 of 7 World Cups
  • Netherlands
    • Won 3 or more games in 4 of 6 World Cups
    • Lost 1 game or less in 5 of 6 World Cups
      • 2 losses and 7th place in 1994
  • Spain
    • Lost 1 game or less in 6 of 7 World Cups
      • 2 losses and 23rd place in 2014
    • Positive Goal Differential in 6 of 7 World Cups
  • France
    • Crazy back-and-forth streak from 1998 2014
      • 6 wins, 0 wins, 4 wins, 0 wins, and 3 wins
      • 15 goals, 0 goals, 9 goals, 1 goals, and 10 goals
      • Goal Differential of +13, -3, +6, -3, and +7
      • Points of 19, 1, 15, 1, and 10
    • At least 1 tie in all 5 World Cups
    • Conceded 4 goals or less in all 5 World Cups
  • England
    • Declining performance from 1990 2014 (missed 1994)
      • 3 wins, 2 wins, 2 wins, 3 wins, 1 win, and 0 wins
      • 8 goals, 7 goals, 6 goals, 6 goals, 3 goals, and 2 goals
      • Goal Differential of +2, +3, +3, +4, -2, and -2
      • Points of 12, 7, 8, 11, 5, and 1
    • Lost 1 game or less in 5 of 6 World Cups
      • 2 losses and 26th place in 2014
    • At least 1 tie in all 6 World Cups (including two or more in 4 of 6 World Cups)
  • Mexico
    • 1-2 wins, 1-2 losses, and 1-2 ties in all 6 World Cups
    • Goal Differential between -1 and +2 in all 6 World Cups
    • 4-7 Points in all 6 World Cups
  • Paraguay
    • Exactly 1 win in all 4 World Cups
    • -1 to +1 Goal Differential in all 4 World Cups
  • Russia
    • Never won more than 1 game or earned more than 3 Points at a World Cup
  • Nigeria
    • Exactly two losses in all 5 World Cups
  • South Korea
    • Besides its 4th place finish in 2002, has only won 2 games in 6 World Cups and earned 4 or less Points in these 6 World Cups
    • Lost 2 games or more in 5 of 7 World Cups
  • USA
    • Won 1 game or less in 6 of 7 World Cups
    • Lost 2 games or more in 6 of 7 World Cups
    • No positive Goal Differential in any World Cup (0 GD in 2002 and 2010)
  • Cameroon
    • Only scored more than 3 goals in 1 of 6 World Cups
    • Conceded 5 or more goals in 5 of 6 World Cups

Other Performance Observations

  • Wide Range of Performance
    • France – 28 place Range and 14.0 Standard Deviation
      • Finished 1st in 1998 and 29th in 2010
    • Japan – 22 place Range and 11.2 Standard Deviation
      • Finished 9th in 2002 and 2010 and 31st in 1998
    • Italy – 25 place Range and 10.3 Standard Deviation
      • Finished 1st in 2006 and 26th in 2010
    • Costa Rica – 23 place Range and 9.9 Standard Deviation
      • Finished 8th in 2014 and 31st in 2006
    • Croatia – 20 place Range and 9.3 Standard Deviation
      • Finished 3rd in 1998 and 23rd in 2002
  • Narrow Range of Performance
    • Mexico – 5 place Range and 1.9 Standard Deviation
      • Finished 10th in 2014 and 15th in 2006
    • Ivory Coast – 4 place Range and 2.0 Standard Deviation
      • Finished 17th in 2010 and 21st in 2014
    • Germany – 6 place Range and 2.2 Standard Deviation
      • Finished 1st in 1990 and 2014 and 7th in 1998
    • Tunisia – 5 place Range and 2.5 Standard Deviation
      • Finished 24th in 2006 and 29th in 2002
    • Brazil – 8 place Range and 2.9 Standard Deviation
      • Finished 1st in 1994 and 2002 and 9th in 1990
  • Multiple Performances Finishing in the Bottom Eight Teams
    • 3
      • Saudi Arabia (1998, 2002, 2006)
      • Cameroon (1998, 2010, 2014)
      • Japan (1998, 2006, 2014)
    • 2
      • Tunisia (1998, 2002)
      • Nigeria (2002, 2010)
      • France (2002, 2010)
      • Iran (2006, 2014)
      • South Korea (1998, 2014)
      • USA (1998, 2006)

Exhibit X: Performance Range by Confederation from 1990 – 2014

Image 32

The tables above show the number of occurrences and percentage of confederation total of individual country performances at the World Cup in quadrants of fifty. A breakdown by confederation follows.


  • 35 of the Top 50 (70%) performances
  • 57 of the Top 100 (57%) performances
  • 82% of all performances in the Top 150


  • 39% of all performances in Top 50
  • 70% of all performances in Top 100
  • 91% of all performances in the Top 150
  • Only 3 of the Bottom 58 (5%) performances


  • 1 of the Top 50 (2%) performances
  • 86% of all performances in 51-200 range
  • 2 of the Bottom 8 (25%) performances


  • 7 of the Top 100 (7%) performances
  • 97% of all performances in 51-200 range
  • 1 of the Bottom 8 (13%) performances


  • 4 of the Top 100 (4%) performances
  • 60% of all performances in the 151-208 range
  • 4 of the Bottom 8 (50%) performances

The following section will discuss various trends, insights, and takeaways from the World Cup analyses conducted.

Confederation Performance on Home Continent from 1990 – 2014

  • UEFA and CONMEBOL dominate World Cups on their home continents
    • UEFA
      • 1990, 1998, and 2006 all won by UEFA teams.
      • 1990, 1998, and 2006 all at least 3/4 Semi-Finalists by UEFA teams (4/4 in 2006).
      • 10 UEFA teams advanced to R16 in each. 6 UEFA teams advanced to QF in each.
      • 3 or fewer non-UEFA or non-CONMEBOL teams advanced out of Group stages. Only one reached the QF (Cameroon in 1990).
      • 5 of 6 teams advanced out of Group Stages and Ecuador, the lone exception, was top finisher amongst non-advanced teams.
      • Second time having 5 teams advance (the other is 2010) to knockout rounds.
  • Non-UEFA, Non-CONCACAF World Cups (so called “neutral sites”) experience more parity
    • 1994 (CONCACAF hosted)
      • 4 non-UEFA and non-CONMEBOL teams advanced out of Group Stages.
        • 2 CONCACAF (R16, R16), 1 CAF (R16), and 1 AFC (R16)
    • 2002 (AFC hosted)
      • 5 non-UEFA and non-CONMEBOL teams advanced out of Group Stages.
        • 2 AFC (4P, R16), 2 CONCACAF (QF, R16), 1 CAF (QF)
    • 2010 (CAF hosted)
      • 5 non-UEFA and non-CONMEBOL teams advanced out of Group Stages.
        • 2 CONCACAF (R16, R16), 2 AFC (R16, R16), 1 CAF (QF)

Country Performance on Home Continent from 1990 – 2014

Exhibit Y: Host Nation Performance Boost from 1990 – 2014

Image 33

The table above show the performance boost from hosting the World Cup as measured by a country’s improvement as host of the World Cup relative to its average performance in all other World Cups. Unsurprisingly, hosting the World Cup has a significantly positive impact on a country’s performance at the World Cup. As seen above, every country who hosted the World Cup fared at or better than their average World Cup performance with most countries experiencing a substantial uptick.

Except for South Africa, every host country has advanced from the Group Stages so it’s a safe bet to expect Russia to make it out of Group A. Other than USA and Japan who each made the Round of 16, every host country has made it at least to the Semi-Finals. As our country ranking analysis displayed in Part II, Russia fell into the same cohort as USA, South Korea, Japan, and South Africa (cohort # 5). Interestingly, those four countries experienced a wide spectrum of results as host nation with one (South Africa) failing to advance from the Group Stages and one (South Korea) reaching the Semi-Finals.

Given the strength, or lack thereof, of Group A (the easiest of the World Cup by far), I fully expect Russia to advance out of the Group Stages, though I would not count on them to make a deep run into the knockout rounds as they will likely face either Spain or Portugal from Group B in the Round of 16.

Qualification Difficulty

Only five countries[1] (Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Spain, and South Korea) have qualified for the past eight World Cups and Argentina was in danger of missing out on Russia if not for some Messi heroics in their qualification finale.

CONMEBOL Improvement

  • CONMEBOL has been improving over the last 3 World Cups
    • 2 QFs and 1 R16 in 2006 (out of 4 teams)
    • 1 SF, 3 QFs, and 1 R16 in 2010 (out of 5 teams)
    • 1 F, 1 SF, 1 QF, and 2 R16 in 2014 (out of 6 teams)
    • Only 2 teams (out of 15) have failed to advance from Group stages in last 3 World Cups
      • Bodes well for Peru in Russia 2018

CONCACAF’s Struggles in Europe

    • 1 team has advanced from Group Stages in each World Cup in Europe
    • 2+ teams have advanced from Group Stages in each World Cup outside of Europe


  • Aggregate Stats Across Confederations
    • No team with more than 5 wins except Mexico (8).
    • No team with a winning record[2] (Mexico is 8-8-8).
    • No team with a positive Goal Differential except Mexico4 (+2).
    • No team wins more than 33% of their matches4.

CAF > CONCACAF > AFC on Top 3 Basis

Exhibit Z: Aggregate Stats by Confederation Based on Results from 1998 – 2014

Image 34

Since CONCACAF, CAF, and AFC have not had the same number of countries in the World Cup and it appears that CAF and AFC are overallocated places in the World Cup field, I performed an analysis on each confederation’s performance on an equivalent basis – the top three performing teams at each World Cup. The exhibit above shows the aggregate confederation stats based on the last 5 World Cups (since the field expanded to 32 teams) on an overall basis, a top 3 team basis for CONCACAF, CAF, and AFC, and the difference between the two.

The difference column is quite revealing and certainly supports the idea that CAF and AFC have been overallocated teams at the World Cup. Teams that do not finish in the top 3 of their confederation have not won any matches at the World Cup, have lost over 80% of their matches, and are outscored by more than 1.5 goals per game. CAF has 33 of these matches, AFC has 18 of these matches, and CONCACAF has 6 of these matches.

When the confederations are compared on a top 3 team basis, the pecking order changes to CAF, CONCACAF, AFC with alignment across Wins, Losses, Goals For, Points, and Goal Differential.


To continue on to Part V – click here.


ICYMI, please refer to Part I Introduction & Evaluation of Performance by Confederation.

ICYMI, please refer to Part II Evaluation of Performance by Country.

ICYMI, please refer to Part III Evaluation of Performance by and within Confederations.


[1] Mexico has qualified for seven consecutive World Cups in which it was eligible to participate. Mexico was banned from the 1990 World Cup for fielding overage players at a junior world championship in the late 1980s.

[2] Amongst teams with multiple World Cup appearances.

World Cup Data Analysis: Part III – Evaluation of Performance by and within Confederations

By @k2thedubs

To download the PDF document in full, click here – World Cup White Paper.


Exhibit M: UEFA Advancement Place from 1990 – 2014

Image 16

Advancement Stats

  • UEFA has 5 Champions, 4 Runner-Ups, 7 Third Place, and 4 Fourth Place finishes.
    • Champions
      • Germany (1990)
      • France (1998)
      • Italy (2006)
      • Spain (2010)
      • Germany (2014)
    • Runner-Ups
      • Italy (1994)
      • Germany (2002)
      • France (2006)
      • Netherlands (2010)
    • Third Place
      • Italy (1990)
      • Sweden (1994)
      • Croatia (1998)
      • Turkey (2002)
      • Germany (2006)
      • Germany (2010)
      • Netherlands (2014)
    • Fourth Place
      • England (1990)
      • Bulgaria (1994)
      • Netherlands (1998)
      • Portugal (2006)

Home Field Advantage

  • UEFA had its best performances in its home World Cups – in 1990, 1998, and 2006. UEFA has won and had at least 3 Semi-Finalists in every World Cup hosted in Europe. Additionally, UEFA has had 6 Quarter-Finalists in each of these World Cups in Europe. While UEFA has won the most recent two World Cups, neither of which were played in Europe, its Quarter-Finalists tallies (3 in 2010 and 4 in 2014) were significantly lower than that of their home World Cups.

Will history repeat itself in Russia this summer? Should we expect UEFA to win and dominate the knockout rounds?

Exhibit N: UEFA Breakdown by Country from 1990 – 2014

Image 17

  • UEFA has been the best-performing continent. They have won 193 games and lost 131 games and have outscored opponents by 138 goals.
  • 18 different countries have more than 10 Points.
  • 12 different countries have less than 10 Points.
  • Other than six countries – Serbia (0.5), Scotland (0.7), Slovenia (0.7), Austria (0.8), Greece (0.8), and Russia (0.9) – every country averages more than 1.0 Points per game.
  • 30 countries from UEFA have participated in at least one of the past seven World Cups. Iceland will increase the total to 31 with their qualification for the 2018 World Cup.
  • Except for Greece (-15), no country has a double digit negative Goal Differential and half (15) have a positive Goal Differential.
  • 24 countries have a Goal Differential between -9 and +8.
  • 5 countries – Germany (58), Netherlands (25), Italy (24), Spain (23), and France (20) – account for a +150 Goal Differential.
  • 7 countries – Belgium (6), England (7), France (6), Germany (8), Italy (7), Netherlands (6), and Spain (8) – have qualified for six or more of the past eight World Cups.
  • 9 countries – Belgium (9), Croatia (7), England (11), France (13), Germany (32), Italy (20), Netherlands (19), Portugal (7), and Spain (19) – have won seven or more games at the World Cup.
  • 12 countries have won two or fewer games at the World Cup.
  • UEFA qualifying is cutthroat. Germany and Spain are powerhouses who have made every World Cup, but other powerhouses, such as Italy, the Netherlands, and France, have failed to qualify at least once. Some strong countries, such as Belgium and Portugal, have failed to qualify multiple times.

Exhibit O: CONMEBOL Advancement Place from 1990 – 2014

Image 18

Advancement Stats

  • CONMEBOL has 2 Champions, 3 Runner-Ups, 0 Third Place, and 2 Fourth Place finishes.
    • Champions
      • Brazil (1994)
      • Brazil (2002)
    • Runner-Ups
      • Argentina (1990)
      • Brazil (1998)
      • Argentina (2014)
    • Third Place
    • Fourth Place
      • Uruguay (2010)
      • Brazil (2014)

Home Field Advantage

  • CONMEBOL had its best performance in the 2014 World Cup hosted in Brazil, where Argentina finished as Runner-Up, Brazil finished in Fourth Place, Colombia reached the Quarter-Finals, and Chile and Uruguay reached the Round of 16. This was the only time two CONMEBOL teams made it to the Semi-Finals in the past seven World Cups and only the second time five CONMEBOL teams made it out of the Group Stages.

Exhibit P: CONMEBOL Breakdown by Country from 1990 – 2014

Image 19

  • CONMEBOL has been the second best-performing continent. They have won 74 games and lost 46 games and have outscored opponents by 59 goals
  • Brazil and Argentina have been the two dominant nations and account for the majority of the total Wins, Goals For, Goal Differential, and Points.
  • Every country, except for Bolivia, has more than 10 Points and averages more than 1.1 Points per game.
  • Only eight countries from CONMEBOL have participated in at least one of the past seven World Cups. Peru will increase the total to nine with their qualification for the 2018 World Cup.
  • CONMEBOL qualifying is extremely difficult. Brazil and Argentina are powerhouses who consistently make the World Cup, leaving high quality countries like Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Uruguay fighting for limited spots.
  • Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Uruguay each have win-loss records around 50% and Goal Differentials near zero.

Exhibit Q: CONCACAF Advancement Place from 1990 – 2014

Image 20

Advancement Stats

  • CONCACAF has no Champions, Runner-Ups, Third Place, or Fourth Place finishes.
  • CONCACAF’s best result is Quarter-Finals, which has happened two times.
    • USA (2002 – QF)
    • Costa Rica (2014 – QF)
  • CONCACAF has had at least one country advance from the Group Stages at each of the last seven World Cups. Notably, Mexico has made and lost in six consecutive Round of 16’s.
  • The 10 teams to advance out of the Group Stages and lose in Round of 16 are as follows:
    • Costa Rica (1990 – R16)
    • Mexico (1994 – R16)
    • USA (1994 – R16)
    • Mexico (1998 – R16)
    • Mexico (2002 – R16)
    • Mexico (2006 – R16)
    • USA (2010 – R16)
    • Mexico (2010 – R16)
    • Mexico (2014 – R16)
    • USA (2014 – R16)

Home Field Advantage

  • CONCACAF had a relatively strong performance in the 1994 World Cup hosted in USA, where USA and Mexico each reached the Round of 16.
  • The 2002 and 2014 World Cups were more successful where multiple teams advanced out of the Group Stages with one team reaching the Quarter-Finals.

Exhibit R: CONCACAF Breakdown by Country from 1990 – 2014

Image 21

  • CONCACAF has been the third worst-performing continent. They have won 19 games and lost 38 games and the majority of countries have a negative Goal Differential, albeit most are in single digits. Mexico has a +2 Goal Differential.
  • Mexico, USA, and Costa Rica are the only countries with more than 3 Points.
  • Only six countries from CONCACAF have participated in at least one of the past seven World Cups. Panama will increase the total to seven with their qualification for the 2018 World Cup.
  • Honduras, Jamaica, and Trinidad & Tobago have combined for one win in twelve matches and only four goals scored.
  • Mexico (8), USA (5), and Costa Rica (5) are the only multi-game winning countries.
  • Each country has lost more games than they have won except for Mexico who has won, lost, and tied eight games apiece.
  • The countries combined to allow 40 more goals than they scored.

Exhibit S: CAF Advancement Place from 1990 – 2014

Image 22

Advancement Stats

  • CAF has no Champions, Runner-Ups, Third Place, or Fourth Place finishes.
  • CAF’s best result is Quarter-Finals, which has happened three times.
    • Cameroon (1990 – QF)
    • Senegal (2002 – QF)
    • Ghana (2010 – QF)
  • The 5 teams to advance out of the Group Stages and lose in Round of 16 are as follows:
    • Nigeria (1994 – R16)
    • Nigeria (1998 – R16)
    • Ghana (2006 – R16)
    • Algeria (2014 – R16)
    • Nigeria (2014 – R16)

Home Field Advantage

  • CAF had one of its best performances in the 2010 World Cup hosted in South Africa, where Ghana reached the Quarter-Finals.
  • Arguably, the 2014 World Cup was more successful where two CAF countries advanced out of the Group Stages for the first time ever with Algeria and Nigeria reaching the Round of 16.

Exhibit T: CAF Breakdown by Country from 1990 – 2014

Image 23

  • CAF has been the second worst-performing continent. They have won 22 games and lost 55 games and every country except Senegal (+1) has a negative Goal Differential, albeit most are in single digits.
  • Nigeria, Cameroon, and Ghana are the only countries with more than 10 Points. South Africa and Ivory Coast have each earned 10 Points.
  • Togo participated in only one World Cup where they lost all three matches with a combined -5 Goal Differential.
  • Only Nigeria (5), Cameroon (4), Ghana (4), and Ivory Coast (3) have won more than two games, and no country has won more than five games.
  • No country has a winning record at the World Cup except for Senegal.
  • Each country has lost more games than they have won except for Senegal who only participated in 2002 and made the Quarter-Finals. The other three countries that participated in only one World Cup did not advance from the Group Stages and did not win a single match, suggesting Senegal’s run is an outlier.
  • Nigeria (6/8), Cameroon (6/8), and Tunisia (4/8) are the only countries to qualify for at least half of the World Cups, though their performance has been poor. Cameroon has the worst Goal Differential of any country (-25) and Tunisia has yet to win a game.
  • The countries combined to allow 61 more goals than they scored.

Exhibit U: AFC Advancement Place from 1990 – 2014

Image 24

Advancement Stats

  • AFC has no Champions, Runner-Ups, or Third Place finishes
  • AFC’s best result is Fourth Place with South Korea, as co-host nation, in 2002.
  • Besides South Korea (2002), no AFC team has advanced to the Quarter-Finals.
  • The 6 teams to advance out of the Group Stages are as follows:
    • Saudi Arabia (1994 – R16)
    • Japan (2002 – R16)
    • South Korea (2002 – 4P)
    • Australia (2006 – R16)
    • Japan (2010 – R16)
    • South Korea (2010 – R16)

Home Field Advantage

  • AFC had its best performance in the 2002 World Cup hosted in South Korea and Japan, where both of those nations advanced (South Korea to 4P and Japan to R16, respectively) out of the Group Stages.
  • Curiously, China and Saudi Arabia, the other two AFC nations, finished 31st and 32nd in 2002.

Exhibit V: AFC Breakdown by Country from 1990 – 2014

Image 25

  • AFC has been the worst-performing continent. They have won 14 games and lost 52 games and every country has a negative Goal Differential.
  • South Korea and Japan are the only countries with more than 10 Points, and no country averages more than 0.9 Points per match.
  • Three countries (China, North Korea, and UAE) participated in only one World Cup where they lost all three matches with a combined -29 Goal Differential. Yikes!

Image 26

  • Even removing these three outliers (see above), the results are dismal.
  • Only Japan (4) and South Korea (5) have won more than two games, and no country has won more than five games.
  • Each country has lost more than twice as many games as they have won.
  • The countries combined to allow (133) more than twice as many goals than they have scored (66). Each country has a given up at least eight more goals than they have scored.
  • South Korea has qualified for eight consecutive World Cups and Japan has qualified for six consecutive World Cups.


To continue on to Part IV – click here.


ICYMI, please refer to Part I Introduction & Evaluation of Performance by Confederation.

ICYMI, please refer to Part II Evaluation of Performance by Country.

World Cup Data Analysis: Part II – Evaluation of Performance by Country

By @k2thedubs

To download the PDF document in full, click here – World Cup White Paper.


Exhibit H: Results by Country from 1990 – 2014

Image 9

The table above is a visual analysis of World Cup results by country since 1990.

Exhibit I: Aggregate Stats by Country Based on Results from 1990 – 2014

Image 10

Based on a ranking analysis of eight criteria[1], I divided the 37 nations who have made three or more of the past seven World Cups into cohorts of similar performance.

Cohort # 1: Powerhouses with Multiple World Cup Victories

Mild Surprise – Germany Clearly Ahead of Brazil

  • I was expecting the top spot to be closer, but Germany is superior to Brazil on all criteria.
  • That being said, Brazil is clearly head and shoulders above every other country on all criteria.

Cohort # 2: Global Powers with Repeated Successes and at Least One Finals Appearance

Usual Suspects – Difficult to Find Much Separation Between the Teams

  • There is not much differentiation on any criteria between the teams in this cluster which features all the usual suspects after cohort #1.
  • It’s interesting to note the similarities in certain categories.
    • 18-20 wins for Italy, Argentina, the Netherlands, and Spain (France with fewer wins given their DNQs in 1990 and 1994).
    • 20-25 Goal Differential for all five teams.
    • 52%-58% Winning Percentage for all five teams.
    • 17%-23% Losing Percentage for all five teams.
    • 84-1.94 Points per game for all five teams.

Cohort # 3: Contenders with Positive Track Record and Ability to Advance to Later Rounds

History of Strong Performances at the World Cup

  • This group begins to show disparities on certain categories though the teams are largely similar.
    • Some teams have few (Romania, 3) and some teams have many (England, 6 and Mexico, 6) World Cup appearances.
    • All teams have at least five wins and no teams have a losing record except Sweden who is one game under .500 (5-6-7).
    • England and Sweden have the highest Tie Percentage (39%) in the top 20 teams.
    • Mexico and Sweden have the lowest Winning Percentage (Mexico, 33% and Sweden, 28%) of the cohort.
    • All teams have a single digit positive Goal Differential.

Cohort # 4: Noisemakers Who Don’t Always Qualify but Show Well When They Do

History of Above-Average Performances at the World Cup

  • This group consists of only a few teams and is mostly similar.
    • All teams have 4-6 wins and a record either .500 or 1-2 games under .500.

Cohort # 5: Hodgepodge of Countries Characterized by Mediocre, Albeit Volatile, Performance

History of Below-Average Performances at the World Cup

  • This group has some minor disparities but is mostly similar.
    • All teams have five or fewer wins and a Winning Percentage at 33% or less except for Ecuador (40%).
    • All teams have a Losing Percentage between 40%-60% except for Ireland (23%) and South Africa (33%).
    • No teams have a positive Goal Differential (Ireland and Russia at 0).

Cohort # 6: Laggards with Limited to No Success at the World Cup

History of Dreadful Performances at the World Cup

  • This group is smaller and has largely similar performance.
    • All teams have two or fewer wins and a Winning Percentage of 20% or less.
    • All teams have a Losing Percentage of 60% or greater
    • All teams have (1.0) Goal Differential per game or worse.
    • All teams have 0.80 Points per game or fewer.

Exhibit J: Advancement Stats by Country Based on Results from 1990 – 2014

Image 11

Image 12

Consistent Dominance

  • Germany has made the Quarter-Finals or better in each of the last 7 World Cups.
  • Brazil has made the Quarter-Finals or better in 6 of the last 7 World Cups and advanced out of the Group Stages in each of the last 7 World Cups.

Volatile Performance from World Cup Winners

  • Italy won the 2006 World Cup, finished second in 1994, and finished third in 1990. They also failed to advance from the Group Stages in 2010 and 2014 and failed to qualify for 2018.
  • France won the 1998 World Cup and finished second in 2006. Prior to winning the 1998 World Cup, they failed to qualify for consecutive World Cups in 1990 and 1994. They also failed to advance from the Group Stages in 2010.

Trends from Other Strong Performers

  • Argentina has made the Quarter-Finals or better in 5 of the last 7 World Cups and advanced out of the Group Stages in 6 of the last 7 World Cups. They have finished second twice – in 1990 and 2014.
  • Netherlands has advanced out of the Group Stages in each of the most recent 6 World Cups in which they participated and made the Semi-Finals or better in 3 of these 6 World Cups. They failed to qualify for the 2002 and 2018 World Cups.
  • Spain has only advanced beyond the Quarter-Finals once, winning the World Cup in 2010. Their reputation as attractive style of play but lack of killer instinct (other than 2010) certainly holds as they boast impressive statistics but have only reached the Quarter-Finals three times.

Other Notable Highlights

  • England has advanced out of the Group Stages in 5 of the 6 World Cups in which they participated but have only advanced to the Semi-Finals once (in 1990).
  • Belgium has advanced out of the Group Stages in 4 of the 5 World Cups in which they participated but have only advanced to the Quarter-Finals once (in 2014).
  • Mexico has advanced to and been eliminated in six consecutive Round of 16’s. Consistent!

Countries with One Special Run

  • Croatia finished third in 1998 but have not advanced out of the Group Stages in any other World Cup.
  • Sweden finished third in 1994 but have not advanced past the Round of 16 since, even missing 3 of the 6 World Cups.

Countries with Strong Performance in Few Appearances

  • Chile has reached the Round of 16 in each of the 3 World Cups in which they participated.
  • Ireland has advanced out of the Group Stages in each of the 3 World Cups in which they participated, making 2 Round of 16’s and 1 Quarter-Finals.

Countries with Poor Advancement Records

  • Russia has failed to advance from the Group Stages in each of the 4 World Cups in which they participated.
  • Ivory Coast has failed to advance from the Group Stages in each of the 3 World Cups in which they participated.
  • South Korea has been eliminated in the Group Stages in each of the last 7 World Cups except for 2002 (played in South Korea and Japan) where they finished fourth and 2010 (played in South Africa) where they reached the Round of 16.
  • Japan has mirrored South Korea. They have been eliminated in the Group Stages in each of the last 5 World Cups in which they participated except for 2002 (played in South Korea and Japan) and 2010 (played in South Africa) where they reached the Round of 16.

Exhibit K: Cumulative Advancement Stats by Country Based on Results from 1990 – 2014

Image 13

Image 14

Exhibit L: Advancement Timeline by Country Based on Results from 1990 – 2014

Image 15

This table shows a timeline of country performance from 1990 2014. I have included some notable storylines stemming from the timeline below.

  • Will Germany continue their dominance? They won the last World Cup, won the 2017 Confederations Cup (with a young, less than full strength roster), and have made at least the Semi-Finals in the past 4 World Cups.
  • Will Brazil regain their dominance? Since pulling off a Champion, Runner-Up, Champion run in 1998, 2002, and 2006, Brazil has yet to make a Final and bowed out of the 2014 World Cup, which they hosted, with a stunning 7-1 defeat to Germany in the Semi-Finals.
  • What is Italy’s response to their swift fall from grace? They followed a 2006 World Cup victory with 2 group stage eliminations and a DNQ for the 2018 World Cup.
  • Similar to Italy, what is the Netherland’s next step? They followed a Runner-Up and Third Place finish with a DNQ for the 2018 World Cup.
  • How will Spain recover from their 2014 World Cup disappointment? After becoming the first team to win consecutive Euros (2008), World Cup (2010), and Euros (2012), they stumbled out of the Group Stages in spectacular fashion. What Spain will we see in Russia 2018?
  • Can France put together consecutive positive World Cup performances, which they have not done over this timeframe? Will their stockpile of talent be able to overcome this trend?
  • Can England and / or Belgium capitalize on their strongest squads in recent memory to propel a deep run in the World Cup? Neither has made a Semi-Final since 1990.
  • Can Mexico snap its Round of 16 streak, either for better or worse? They are a mercurial side equally likely to fall victim to a difficult group and not advance or finally buck their trend and advance deep into the tournament.
  • Will Romania ever recover? They have missed 5 consecutive World Cups after having advanced out of the Group Stages in the previous 3 World Cups.
  • Will Colombia exploit its golden generation and advance to the knockout rounds for the second consecutive World Cup, a feat it has never done?
  • How will Uruguay fare in Europe, after missing the past two World Cups on the continent?
  • Like Romania, will Ireland ever recover? They have missed 4 consecutive World Cups after having advanced out of the Group Stages in the previous 3 World Cups in which they competed.
  • Can Costa Rica take advantage of its golden generation one more time before age catches up to them?
  • Will Russia leverage home-field advantage to advance out of the Group Stages for the first time in 8 World Cups?
  • Can South Korea and Japan reverse their historical trends? Each nation has failed to advance out of the Group Stages in World Cups held in Europe. However, each country has experienced a Do Not Advance – Advance coupling for the past 5 World Cups that is slated for Advance if the trend were to continue.
  • Will Iran and / or Tunisia be able to make history? Neither country has ever advanced out of the Group Stages.


To continue on to Part III – click here.


ICYMI, please refer to Part I Introduction & Evaluation of Performance by Confederation.


[1] Criteria based on World Cups Made (World Cups), Matches Played (Matches), Total Goal Differential (GD), Total Points (Pts), Winning Percentage (Win %), Losing Percentage (Loss %), Per Game Goal Differential (Per Game GD), and Per Game Points (Per Game Pts).

World Cup Data Analysis: Part I – Introduction & Evaluation of Performance by Confederation

By @k2thedubs

To download the PDF document in full, click here – World Cup White Paper.


Part I – World Cup Analysis: Introduction & Evaluation of Performance by Confederation

In anticipation of the upcoming World Cup in Russia, I decided to conduct a comprehensive statistical analysis on the World Cup. During my research, I gathered data on all World Cup results for the seven tournaments since 1990 and performed numerous analyses on the figures which illuminated a plethora of insights.

Part I of the analysis will evaluate performance by confederation through a series of exhibits.

Exhibit A: Aggregate Stats by Confederation Based on Results from 1990 – 2014

Image 1

The chart above displays aggregate stats by confederation based on the results of the last seven World Cups as well as some key per game metrics. As seen in the chart, we can glean the following insights.

UEFA and CONMEBOL dominate the World Cup

  • They lead all confederations in World Cups, Matches, Wins, Goals For, Goal Differential, Points, and Winning Percentage.
  • They have accumulated 83% of all Wins and 76% of all Goals For while only accounting for 63% of the field.
  • They are the only confederations to win the World Cup.
  • UEFA and CONMEBOL have strikingly similar per game metrics, including Goals For (1.38 and 1.39), Goals Against (1.05 and 1.01), and Points (1.60 and 1.67).

CONCACAF, CAF, and AFC are minnows at the World Cup

  • The confederations have each won 22 or fewer games cumulatively.
  • They each have won less than 25% of their matches and lost more than 49% of their matches.
  • The confederations each have a meaningfully negative Goal Differential with each worse than (0.5) per game.
  • The confederations each score less than 1.0 goals per game.
  • The confederations each do not average more than 1.0 Points per game.


  • Of the three, the pecking order is CONCACAF, CAF, and AFC. The confederations align in that order based on Winning Percentage, Losing Percentage, Goal Differential per game, and Points per game.

Exhibit B: Per World Cup Stats by Confederation Based on Results from 1990 – 2014

Image 2

The chart above slices the previous chart’s aggregate confederation stats into per World Cup and per Team per World Cup stats for another vantage point on the data.

Per World Cup Breakdown

  • UEFA comprises nearly half (47%) of teams at the World Cup, followed by CONMEBOL (16%), CAF (15%), AFC (12%), and CONCACAF (10%).
  • UEFA wins 60% of all matches at a World Cup followed by CONMEBOL at 23%, both of which are above their proportional representation.
  • CONCACAF, CAF, and AFC do not combine to win even 17% of all matches and average only 2-3 wins per World Cup for their entire confederation, which is less than one per team.
  • The difference in Goal Differential is stark. UEFA and CONMEBOL are significantly positive whereas CONCACAF, CAF, and AFC are significantly negative.

Per World Cup Per Team Breakdown

  • The average CONMEBOL team is strongest – they boast the best metrics in Matches, Wins, Losses, Goals For, Goals Against, Goal Differential, and Points.
  • UEFA follows closely behind CONMEBOL with the second-best metrics in each of the categories.
  • CONCACAF, CAF, and AFC trail UEFA and CONMEBOL in an orderly fashion with CONCACAF performing third-best in all categories, CAF performing fourth-best in all categories, and AFC performing last in all categories.

Exhibit C: Advancement Stats by Confederation Based on Results from 1990 – 2014

Image 3

The tables above tally the final place by confederation based on results of the last seven World Cups.

UEFA and CONMEBOL punch above their weight

  • They account for all Champions, Runner-ups, and Third Place finishes.
  • They account for 6 of 7 Fourth Place finishes.
  • They have low Group Stages elimination rates with only 37% and 24% of teams failing to survive the Group Stages.

CONCACAF, CAF, and AFC punch below their weight

  • The only country to make the Semi-Finals from a confederation other than UEFA or CONMEBOL is South Korea in 2002 where they co-hosted the World Cup and benefited from suspect refereeing.
  • They have high Group Stages elimination rates with 74% and 76% of CAF and AFC teams failing to survive the Group Stages.
  • CONCACAF fares much better in the Group Stages with less than half of its teams (43%) exiting during the Group Stages.

Exhibit D: Cumulative Advancement Stats by Confederation Based on Results from 1990 – 2014

Image 4

The tables above record the number of teams who advanced to each respective stage by confederation based on results of the last seven World Cups.

UEFA and CONMEBOL punch above their weight

  • They account for 50 of 56 (89%) of Quarter-Finals teams and 86 of 112 (77%) of Round of 16 teams.
  • 21% of participating teams from each confederation reach the Semi-Finals and approximately 40% (37% and 42%, respectively) reach the Quarter-Finals.
  • They are overrepresented, relative to their proportion of teams in the World Cup (47% for UEFA and 16% for CONMEBOL, respectively), at each stage of the knockout rounds.

CONCACAF, CAF, and AFC punch below their weight

  • They account for only 6 of 56 (11%) of Quarter-Finals teams and 26 of 112 (23%) of Round of 16 teams.
  • CONCACAF teams have performed better than expected in the Group Stages with 57% of their teams advancing to the Round of 16, which vastly exceeds CAF (26%) and AFC (24%) and only slightly trails UEFA (63%) and CONMEBOL (76%).

Exhibit E: Results by Confederation from 1990 – 2014

Image 5

Image 6

UEFA and CONMEBOL punch above their weight

  • UEFA has had 1 (5 of 7 World Cups) or 2 (2 of 7) participants in all Finals.
  • UEFA has had 1 (3 of 7 World Cups) or 2 (4 of 7) participants in all 3P / 4P games.
  • UEFA has won each of past 3 World Cups in Europe with at least 3 Semi-Finalists in each (4 of 4 in Germany 2006).
  • CONMEBOL has had 1 team in either the Finals or Semi-Finals for 5 of last 7 World Cups. No CONMEBOL teams made the Semi-Finals in 2006 and 2 CONMEBOL teams made the Semi-Finals in 2014, which was hosted in South America.
  • CONMEBOL has strengthened over the past 3 World Cups.
    • 2 QFs and 1 R16 in 2006
    • 1 SF, 3 QFs, and 1 R16 in 2010
    • 1 F, 1 SF, 1 QF, and 2 R16 in 2014
    • Only 2 teams have failed to advance from Group stages, and they finished 18th (in 2006) and 17th (in 2014), respectively.

World Cup Composition – UEFA & CONMEBOL Underrepresented and CAF & AFC Overrepresented

An analysis of the bottom 16 teams who failed to reach the knockout rounds supports the idea that UEFA and CONMEBOL are underrepresented and CAF and AFC are overrepresented.

Of the 40 teams finishing in the bottom eight of the past five World Cups, 13 (33%) have come from AFC, 10 (25%) have come from CAF, 10 (25%) have come from UEFA, 6 (15%) have come from CONCACAF, and 1 (3%) have come from CONMEBOL. The concentration of AFC and CAF teams in the bottom eight relative to their proportion of the World Cup field as well as the weakness of their aggregate confederation stats illustrates that their allocations are likely too high. In contrast, the lack of UEFA and CONMEBOL teams in the bottom eight relative to their proportion of the World Cup field as well as the strength of their aggregate confederation stats demonstrates that their allocations are likely too low.

However, it must be stated that the World Cup’s objective is not simply to field the best 32 nations but to be a global competition of the world’s best. While it may be accretive to the overall quality of the World Cup field to limit AFC, CAF, and CONCACAF to three (or fewer) teams apiece, it is unlikely FIFA will make such a radical change. That being said, there is a compelling argument for transferring a bid each from CAF and AFC to UEFA and CONMEBOL, respectively.

CONCACAF, while performing much worse than UEFA and CONMEBOL, appears to benefit from a more logical World Cup allocation than CAF and AFC. Since they have fewer spots, the highest quality nations from the region tend to earn qualification and underlings, who would be susceptible to poor performances at the World Cup, rarely make it. In contrast, since CAF and AFC are overrepresented, the weakest squads to earn qualification tend to perform poorly at the World Cup as they are largely overmatched relative to the strength of competition.

Exhibit F: Number of Teams to Advance in Knockout Rounds by Confederation from 1998 – 2014

Image 7

The table above and summary below highlight the boost that confederations receive when they host the World Cup, as measured by the number of teams reaching the respective knockout rounds in a home World Cup compared to the average number of teams reaching the respective knockout rounds across all World Cups.

Home Continent Advantage by Knockout Round

  • UEFA (1998 and 2006)
    • R16
      • 10 teams – 1.8 teams ahead of average
      • 10 teams – 1.8 teams ahead of average
    • QF
      • 6 teams – 1.4 teams ahead of average
      • 6 teams – 1.4 teams ahead of average
    • SF
      • 3 teams – 0.2 teams ahead of average
      • 4 teams – 1.2 teams ahead of average
    • F
      • 1 team – 0.4 teams behind average
      • 2 teams – 0.6 teams ahead of average
  • AFC (2002)
    • R16
      • 2 teams – 1.0 teams ahead of average
    • QF
      • 1 team – 0.8 teams ahead of average
    • SF
      • 1 team – 0.8 teams ahead of average
    • F
      • N/A
  • CAF (2010)
    • R16
      • 1 team – 0.2 teams behind average
    • QF
      • 1 team – 0.6 teams ahead of average
    • SF
      • N/A
    • F
      • N/A
  • CONMEBOL (2014)
    • R16
      • 5 teams – 1.2 teams ahead of average
    • QF
      • 3 teams – 0.6 teams ahead of average
    • SF
      • 2 teams – 1.0 teams ahead of average
    • F
      • 1 team – 0.4 teams ahead of average

Exhibit G: Composite Results by Confederation Based on Actual Results from 1998 – 2014

Image 8

The table above displays a composite of World Cup performance by confederation based on the average results of the past five World Cups since the field expanded to 32 teams. Please note this analysis does not adjust for geography. Please also note that for the upcoming World Cup, the final spot (which is the composite of CONCACAF, AFC, and OFC based on playoff results) will be a fifth team from AFC – Australia.


To continue on to Part II – click here.


[1] This pecking order is not as straightforward as it seems. Part IV of this analysis will delve deeper into the comparative performance of these confederations.

USSF Election: A Personification of US Soccer’s Flaws

By @k2thedubs


Anger. Frustration. Disappointment. Confusion.

Those were the primary emotions I felt after Carlos Cordeiro’s electoral victory as USSF President. Given all that is wrong with US Soccer, how did Cordeiro win? Even more troubling, how did he and Kathy Carter dominate the vote?

In the past four months, I have spent an inordinate amount of time reflecting upon and gathering my thoughts on US Soccer. It’s been terrific to see so much engagement and conversations taking place, but the results of Saturday’s election were dispiriting and incompatible with much of the discussion. In the subsequent pages, I tackle the following topics in hopes of making sense of it all.

  • Reaction to the USSF Election Results
  • Commentary on the Stuart Holden / Athlete Council Saga
  • Post-Morten on Sunil Gulati’s Tenure
  • Examination of the USSF’s Systemic Failures
  • Exploration of the Various Ways the US Soccer Media Failed in Its Coverage
  • Recognition of Outsider Voices that Did Offer Critique
  • The Hypocrisy of the “A Few Inches / One Game” Argument
  • Implications for Cordeiro’s Reign
  • A Call to Action
  • Insights / Ruminations from Thoughtful Journalism
  • Conclusion

While much of my commentary is highly critical of the USSF, I endeavored to support my observations with reason and evidence (you will see a plethora of sources throughout). I am open to engaging in dialogue with anyone who reads this and wants to share their thoughts, but I implore you to digest with an open mind and without preconceived notions.


Reaction to the USSF Election Results

I’ve provided a screenshot of a twitter thread from Breaking The Lines that encapsulated the reaction of many and reverberated through the soccer community following the conclusion of the USSF election.

Image 1 - USSF

Image 2 - USSF

Image 3 - USSF

I think this thread serves as a relevant backdrop to commence the conversation on US Soccer, and I will explore many of the themes mentioned in the post in the pages that follow.


Commentary on the Stuart Holden / Athlete Council Saga

Shortly after the election concluded, Stuart Holden served as emissary for the Athlete Council (AC) to explain their pivotal decision to cast a bloc vote for Cordeiro that swung the election in his favor. The NY Times quoted Holden as saying “…I think it was more important than ever that we showed as an athletes group that we were united, and I think that makes a big statement”.

A quick search of Holden’s twitter account shows that others were less convinced of the statement being made.

Image 4 - USSF

Echoing lilly’s sentiments, which resonated with many, I think the AC’s decision spoke volumes but did not communicate the message they intended. Instead, it conveyed the following – mediocrity is acceptable and the status quo is okay. While Cordeiro was able to convince the USSF voters, who lacked imagination or verve in instituting actual change, he failed to sway public opinion.

Speaking to Grant Wahl, Holden elaborated – “I was just impressed by Carlos’s ideas…and I loved that he was vulnerable in saying that he’s not the smartest soccer guy in the room and he wants to find the smartest soccer guys. To me that resonated strongly.”

What are his ideas – that he defers to soccer experts for key technical decisions? I’ve heard him speak publicly, read interviews with him, and visited his website, and I could not tell you what he stands for, what his ideas are, or, most importantly, how he intends to achieve them.

Let’s not forget that Cordeiro stated he would serve out his term as VP through 2020 if not elected as President. Why couldn’t he have advocated for his platform – primarily to weaken the strength of the Presidency, empower the Board, and appoint committees / positions to oversee certain activities – as VP? As proof of the efficacy of this approach, the decision to appoint a men’s and women’s GM was approved at the AGM independent of the election results.

Cordeiro’s other primary agenda item is to create two additional committees to supervise technical matters and commercial dealings. It seems perfectly plausible that Cordeiro could have pushed for the creation of these committees as VP and left the soccer leadership to someone with a background in the game. Would US Soccer not be better served with a more knowledgeable President and the enhanced governance Cordeiro could have helped instill as VP?

Think about Holden’s message. Re-read what he said. What impressed him about Cordeiro was his acknowledgment of his deficiencies, which most would characterize as prerequisites of his job. I think Jerome de Bontin summed it up best.

Image 5 - USSF

Would you be comfortable with a Director of the Center of Disease Control (CDC) who has minimal medical expertise? It is important to dispel this notion that there is no intersection of individuals who possess both soccer expertise and business acumen. Plenty of those individuals exist. Statements like those of Holden that suggest otherwise are untrue and misleading.

Shortly after making his initial comments, Holden shot back at the response from critics of the AC’s decision.

Image 6 - USSF

Alexi Lalas came to the defense of Holden and tweeted the following.

Image 7 - USSF

Holden, please spare us the sanctimoniousness. The U.S. has been performing poorly for more than a decade, and, following its biggest failure to date, we expected change. You, and the AC, did not deliver change. Fans are left scratching their heads and wondering the following:

  • Why did the AC vote as a bloc?
  • Why did the AC vote for Cordeiro rather than any other candidates?
  • How does Cordeiro best serve the AC and the interests of the USSF as a whole?
  • Were there backroom deals, at the behest of concealed lobbying efforts, influencing their decision?

Here is one direct example of the suspicious “quid pro quo” behavior that is all too commonplace in US Soccer. Carlos Bocanegra preaches the company line after the election victory.

Image 8 - USSF

Then, in less than a week, it is confirmed that Bocanegra is on the short list for the newly crafted GM position. Bocanegra had an illustrious playing career and is now involved in the front office of Atlanta United, but, he’s 38 years old, less than four years removed from his playing career, and has only a few years of managerial experience. This does not exactly scream prime candidate for the GM of the national team and is another action that raises eyebrows. So much for transparency.

Kartik Krishnaiyer’s retrospective on the AC’s decision-making raises more questions than answers and leaves a lot to be desired. What was even more telling was Holden’s admission of the candidates in contention for the AC bloc vote – Cordeiro, Carter, and Martino – which undoes his (and the AC’s) credibility. The fact that Carter and Cordeiro were among their choices reveals their motivations and thought process.

The public expressed concern over various issues related to the AC, such as their decision to interview only a portion of the candidates, their susceptibility to outside influence, their indecision throughout the election process, and their shifting from candidate to candidate on a whim as if they are homogenous even though they have meaningfully different platforms.

However, contrary to Lalas’ claim, it’s not voicing displeasure at something we disagree with just because we disagree with it; rather, it is because we don’t understand the decision or the rationale explaining the decision so we wonder why. It is widely known that the powers to be at SUM and other affiliated entities exercise undue influence on athletes both during and after their playing careers. For instance, Kartik shared a disturbing example of this coercion.

The low number of athletes who cast ballots can be attributed to the desires of MLS, fearful a bloc would come together for the likes of Kyle Martino, perceived as a candidate not in line with Don Garber’s agenda, being given a difficult time leaving their clubs.

MLS obstructed players from leaving their clubs out of fear they would vote against MLS’ priorities. It’s alarming to witness how deathly afraid the establishment is of relinquishing any control of their vice grip on US Soccer. Based on Kartik’s article, it’s clear the AC lacked sincerity and had ulterior motivations as their intra-rounds deliberations were shaped by aligning with the candidate they deemed likeliest to win rather than who they felt would best serve their interests and the interests of US Soccer. That’s disgraceful.

Moreover, story after story keeps coming out of how little prominent US Soccer athletes know of the inner workings of the USSF who seem happy to keep their constituents in the dark. Here is Heather Mitts, three-time Olympic Gold medalist, illustrating such opaqueness on the day before the election, no less.

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Sorry, Holden, but I’m not convinced by your decision and have serious reservations about the judgement of a self-proclaimed non-soccer expert who has held office for the past decade while numerous failures, missteps and mistakes have been made.

And to Lalas, I think John Pranjic provides a simple rebuttal to your straw man defense.

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Here’s another key point made by Pranjic.

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This past USSF election exemplified many of the USSF’s flaws – lack of information, dubious motivations, convoluted (electoral) processes, dismissal (and outright contempt in some cases) of the voices of the common fan, and neglect of fiduciary duties – all under the guise of transparency and betterment of US Soccer. This is why we are calling out Holden and the like who did not appear to prioritize doing what’s best for soccer in their decision making.


Post-Morten on Sunil Gulati’s Tenure

Before delving into what comes next for US Soccer and speculating on what a future under the Cordeiro administration looks like, I thought it would be useful to review Gulati’s tenure to evaluate his performance and see if there are any lessons to be learned.

What has Gulati accomplished in his twelve years at the helm of US Soccer?

The two major things that come to mind are the $150 M surplus and the advent of the Development Academy. Am I missing anything? I’m happy to expand this list and give credit where it is due, but that is all that immediately comes to mind. If those are the major accomplishments, that’s a paltry list.

In terms of the $150 M surplus, there is a compelling argument to be made that the surplus is actually a defect and was garnered in spite of, rather than because of, the USSF’s efforts. Had the USSF been more astute in their business decisions, they could have likely monetized their broadcast rights for orders of magnitude more than they have under the current arrangement with SUM.

Meanwhile, here is a list of issues or problems that took place during Gulati’s reign and / or currently exist today.

Additionally, I took a trip down memory lane and unearthed some choice quotes from Gulati that I will comment on in this next section.

Gulati after his first election victory in March 2006

“We can’t get complacent with an eighth-place finish or a gold medal,” referring, respectively, to the U.S. men advancing to the World Cup’s quarterfinals, and the women’s team having won the 2004 Summer Olympics championship, in addition to capturing the 1996 Olympics title and two World Cup crowns (1991, 1999) and two Summer Olympics (1996, 2004).

Winning gives us respect in all areas. (In regard to the Federation itself), we have to continue growing. “We can’t stop now that we have three-and-a-half or four million members. We need to gain new members and retain the one’s we have. That means more and more using the mass media to reach a new audience. It’s television and working with our partners like SUM.”

It’s interesting to hear Gulati’s take on complacency and status quo at the onset of his Presidency. Whereas he derides complacency and the status quo in 2006, I’d say those are two ideas that define his Presidency.

Membership plateaued during his tenure. And for a guy who flaunted Olympic success in his inaugural address, he seems suddenly forgetful to broach the topic in recent years when the men have failed to qualify for two consecutive tournaments (and three of the last four) and the USWNT recently faced their worst Olympics result in program history.

Gulati in his first year of Presidency in October 2006

“One of the challenges is to get more players from minority communities into good soccer programs,” he emphasized. “Kids from middle-class families find their way through the maze more easily and that gives them an advantage,”

In twelve years as President and many more in leadership positions, how did Gulati address this problem? This quote could be written today. Minority engagement is as relevant today, if not moreso, than it was 12 years ago. Pay-to-play is rampant and its consequences on player development are dire. I’m going to discuss the Jonathan Gonzalez situation later, which perfectly encapsulates the federation’s numerous failures in its outreach, or lack thereof, to diverse communities.

“Kids in the U.S.A. tend to have too much coaching, too much instruction and too much emphasis on tactics,”

Really? US Soccer is in its infancy when it comes to tactics and is significantly less advanced than their global counterparts in this area.

Too much coaching? I understand the concept of helicopter parents and weekend warrior soccer dads / moms, but, in terms of real coaching, the U.S. trails the rest of the world by huge margins.

Gulati shortly after the 2010 World Cup Exit in June 2010

“I think the team is capable of more,” Gulati said Monday during a one-hour assessment. “I think the players know it. I think Bob knows it. And so at that level we’re disappointed we didn’t get to play another 90 minutes at least.”

Look at the tone Gulati used eight years ago about losing in the Round of 16. He argues the team is capable of more than simply reaching the knockout rounds. Little did he know, in just eight years, his leadership would propel the USMNT to fail to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

“However we evaluate a coach in a short-term situation like the World Cup, the broader issue is we’ve got to get better development, better players at the other end of it. And that is not something you do in a year or two. And that’s everything else we’re doing in our system or trying to do, whether it’s the development academy, whether it’s MLS having youth teams, whether it’s reaching out further to the Hispanic and African-American communities.”

There he goes again talking about outreach, four years after his initial comments. Did he do anything in those four years? Did he enact any programs or institute any initiatives aimed at addressing this problem? With the benefit of hindsight, we know that this problem, which was identified in his first months as President, persisted and was perhaps, even, exacerbated during his tenure.

“I don’t think it takes a lot of watching to know that (Carlos) Tevez and (Lionel) Messi have a different control of the ball than most of our players or most of the players in the world, for that matter. So we’ve got to be better. Players have to be better, sure. And I take responsibility for that, on where the sport is.”

His words ring hollow. Taking responsibility for failures has never been Gulati’s style, and, here, he claims to take responsibility for our stunted player development. The US Soccer landscape was, and still is, dramatically different than that of Argentina and what steps did Gulati take to imitate and bridge the gap to the global elite?

It’s jarring to re-read the statements of the man who was tasked with leading US Soccer for more than a decade and noting i) how little was accomplished, ii) how little he was held accountable, and iii) how little the public seemed to notice, until recently.

In their election recap, Stars and Stripes asserts Cordeiro “deserves a chance”.

…there are legitimate concerns with how he will run the federation, however much of the criticism, and abuse as the case may be, directed toward Cordeiro seems to stem from who he is rather than what he has said he will do. Unless he gives a reason for stakeholders and fans to lose faith in him as USSF President, it would be unfair to reject him before his tenure even begins.

I vehemently disagree. Upon reviewing Gulati’s Presidency, which was marred by mistakes and stagnation, Cordeiro is guilty by association until he proves otherwise. At this point (and we will go into more later), his words should not be trusted at face value. He should be consistently challenged to prove his critics wrong and that he will uphold his word.

So, to all of you, fans and media alike, encouraging people to give Cordeiro a chance and believe his campaign slogans, I say I’ll believe it when I see it. I’ve experienced more than a decade of empty promises so I’m going to exercise skepticism with Cordeiro. Until he does anything to suggest otherwise, I don’t accept his words. Given the fact that he’s been part of the USSF for a decade and given the USSF’s track record of maintaining the status quo, I have little faith.


Examination of the USSF’s Systemic Failures

In this section, I want to highlight some of the fundamental systemic failures of the USSF which undermine the legitimacy and efficacy of any efforts at reform under a largely unchanged administration.

The Instability of Our Professional System

There is a false sense of stability of our closed professional system. This article lists the more than dozen American soccer teams that have folded, moved, or ceased operations in the last five years alone. The narrative of heightened risk from an open system is false. In fact, countries across the globe rarely experience clubs running out of business. The real myth is the false sense of security of our fragile, closed system.

The Victims and Losers of the USSF’s Policies

I have inserted a tweet and screenshot from Glen Crooks on Hope Solo’s comments about Cordeiro, Carter, and their role in the failures of US Soccer over the past decade.

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It’s difficult to dispute anything Solo asserts on the morning of the election in her scathing takedown of Carter and Cordeiro and what they represent.

The Jonathan Gonzalez Chronicle

The story that epitomizes the fissures of our broken system is Jonathan Gonzalez’s decision to switch to Mexico. Without delving into the details, which have been discussed and dissected ad nauseum here, here, and here, I will illustrate the USSF’s incompetence in broad strokes.

We have a talented player who is born in America, competes for our youth national teams on numerous occasions, and desires to play for the USMNT. We are in the driver’s seat and have to royally drop the ball to lose a player who has consistently demonstrated commitment to US Soccer along the way.

As we know, Gonzalez did flip to Mexico so where did the USSF go wrong?

  • Initially, the USSF fed the narrative that Gonzalez simply had a “change of heart” and switched allegiance to Mexico, which turned out to be untrue.
  • The USSF neglected the player at a time when reaching out to players, particularly young ones, was of paramount importance.
  • More alarmingly, Dave Sarachan, interim USMNT manager, revealed he had no idea Gonzalez was having cold feet. The federation’s infrastructure for player outreach, recruitment, and relationship building should not fall apart with the change of a national team manager.
  • It was reported, not by a mainstream journalist of course, that Gonzalez’s family felt “bullied” and “unappreciated” by US Soccer in the past.
  • The USSF, in an attempt to save face, lied about visiting Gonzalez three times.
  • When news of their lying surfaced, the USSF admitted their deceit but defended their approach, despite evidence to the contrary.

Here’s a quick summary of the USSF’s playbook. First, spin the story to conceal the truth. Next, lie to cover your mistakes. Then, get caught in the lie and reframe the story. Finally, ignore and rely on the media to move on and not hold your feet to the fire.

Losing a dual national is not the problem here. Each player has the right to select to play for the nation of their choosing. The USSF’s job is to make their best pitch at persuading a player why the US is the best option for them. At that point, it’s up to a player to decide and let the cards fall as they may. For example, the USSF did everything in their power to recruit Giuseppe Rossi, but he ultimately chose to play for Italy. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

What is disconcerting is the USSF’s response and reaction to their mistakes. Did the USSF accept blame and learn from this experience? Did they contemplate ideas on how to better recruit dual-nationals, build healthier relationships, and foster an environment where they chose to play for the U.S. rather than their other options? The answer to both questions is a resounding no.

As the story unfolded, many troubling details and anecdotes emerged. For example, Grant Wahl reported that Thomas Rongen is the lone full-time scout for the U.S. Let that sink in. A country of more than 300 million has one full-time scout. These are the basics! Heck, these are beneath the basics. The USSF cannot even competently handle the most elementary tasks.

Another disturbing example was Brad Rothenberg’s revelation that Tony Lepore, U.S. Soccer’s Director of Talent Identification, “notified us (Sueño Alianza) in 2016 that they weren’t interested in participating in Alianza since they haven’t found any elite players”. This is an organization with an extended track record of launching the professional careers of scores of players, and, yet, US Soccer is not interested. US Soccer’s outright disregard of a massive talent pool is beyond gross negligence and raises so many questions. It shows that they don’t care about exploring every channel to become the best they can be.

The entire Jonathan Gonzalez situation epitomizes the dysfunction, disarray, arrogance, and ineptitude of the USSF. The powers to be have demonstrated an inability to establish even the most rudimentary of systems, such as channels of communication with players, and have exhausted their credibility time and time again. I don’t believe a largely unchanged Board can right the ship as they lack the oversight, track record, and expertise to enact meaningful reform.


Exploration of the Various Ways the US Soccer Media Failed in Its Coverage

The Purpose of the Media

The purpose of an independent, free press in any field is to equip the populace with the necessary information to form educated opinions and make informed decisions. In doing so, the media has an obligation to uncover the truth, promote transparency, serve as the public’s watchdog to hold those in power accountable, ensure diversity of coverage to mitigate disenfranchisement of marginalized groups, etc…

Examples of Inadequate Media Coverage

As an ardent soccer supporter, I have collected and archived countless articles on US Soccer. Following this momentous election, I decided to revisit many of these articles to uncover fresh insights with the benefit of hindsight and perspective.

The troubling theme I discovered is the incongruity with the tenor of coverage and the reality of the situations being reported on. I will provide numerous examples that illustrate the depths to which the media are divorced from reality.

Steve Davis’ Interview with Bruce Arena Suggesting the USMNT Can Win the 2026 World Cup

Here is a quote from Davis’ article from April 2017, less than nine months ago, with Bruce Arena.

“So, I think 2026 will be the time where we are going to start talking about winning a World Cup, to be honest with you.” Yeah, he took it there. The United States, quarterfinalist at its best – and that was back in 2002 – as a real-deal World Cup contender nine years from now?

He may not exactly be right – but he’s not really wrong, either.

How do we expect to be taken seriously? This is an outrageous claim with no tether to reality. The USMNT has only won multiple games at a World Cup once and has five total victories in their modern history. There is no mention of these damming statistics, of course. Yet this is the media and the stories they promulgate that we are forced to contend with.

Brian Sciaretta’s Analysis of the USSF Election

Here are some passages from Sciaretta following the USSF election.

While Cordeiro has worked within U.S. Soccer for over a decade, Kathy Carter was the establishment candidate. With the U.S. men’s team failing to qualify for the World Cup, that clearly worked against her.

To his credit, Cordeiro jumped into the race at a time when it was expected that Sunil Gulati was going to run again for U.S. president. It was a bold move but he clearly seized an opening. That might have worked in his favor that he wanted to offer a change from the status quo.

In the end, he was able to walk the insider/outsider line very carefully. He was able to convince people that he could run the organization but wasn’t tied to Gulati and wanted change.

Wow, just wow. There so much wrong in just three paragraphs.

  • There can be multiple establishment candidates and both Carter, the President of SUM, and Cordeiro, a long-time Board member and current USSF VP, were establishment candidates. Full stop. There is no two ways about that and no way to spin it otherwise.
  • The USMNT’s failure to qualify worked against Carter? How does that make any sense? Carter has many faults, but the USMNT’s failure to qualify is not one of them. Cordeiro, on the other hand, does bear responsibility, and, yet, Sciaretta places his blame elsewhere.
  • Announcing his candidacy prior to Gulati confirming his plans to walk away was not bold. Gulati was a lame-duck who just oversaw the biggest failure of his organization’s history, which negated his chances of winning the election[1]. Cordeiro’s decision to run was a no-brainer. He was the sitting VP and the likeliest candidate to win. Gulati was simply too arrogant to step aside in a timely manner. That is not a credit to Cordeiro. And to suggest it was a divergence from the status quo is disingenuous.
  • The “insider / outsider” line was a marketing ploy whose effectiveness reveals the dysfunction of the media. He was unable to convince people (please refer to Wahl’s poling figures below). He was able to convince media cronies. I’d welcome Sciaretta to explain how the landscape of US Soccer will be different under Cordeiro’s reign than that of Gulati.

More from Scairetta’s article.

Finally, he also seems to know what he doesn’t know. He’s not a soccer guy and doesn’t necessarily pretend to be one.

If competent soccer people are hired to fill these roles and make the important decisions for the various U.S. national teams and youth teams, U.S. Soccer can function well in the future. Gulati’s decisions over the men’s national team coach were generally poor. But those are decisions Gulati made. Who will make them under Cordeiro?

We are confusing humility with lack of qualifications. Yes, it is important for leaders to recognize their limitations and weaknesses. But, it’s also expected that they possess basic skills as prerequisites for their job. It’s unbelievable that we even have to discuss the head of US Soccer’s lack of soccer knowledge, let alone spin it as an attribute rather than grounds for immediate disqualification from the position. Yet here we are.

Grant Wahl’s Reflection on the USSF Election

Here is a blurb from Wahl’s article.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether Cordeiro can win over the public. In my Twitter poll conducted in late December that had more than 12,000 votes, Cordeiro got just 4 percent of the vote when users were asked to choose among him, Martino (44 percent), Eric Wynalda (41 percent) and Carter (11 percent). In a vote among the American Outlaws supporters group last week, Cordeiro finished dead last among the eight candidates, receiving just 1.3 percent of 904 votes.

Why doesn’t Wahl, or any other journalist, investigate this further? The cognitive dissonance between the public and those of voters is a newsworthy story that has not been explored or reported on in any depth. It exemplifies the failure to uphold the core values of journalism, and I’m not the only one who thinks so (see below).

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Brian Strauss’ Attempt to Present Cordeiro as a Non-Status Quo Candidate

Here is a series of statements from Strauss’ interview with Carlos Cordeiro from December 2017.

“we need to ensure that we have very open, inclusive, transparent leadership if we are to achieve the growth we want…”

How gross and offensive is that statement? Open. Inclusive. Transparent. Not even Gulati would look you in the eye and profess those adjectives in a discussion of US Soccer. Those are the opposite of the core values the USSF has espoused in their actions for the past two decades.

Open? US Soccer is anything but open. Our soccer landscape is a closed pyramid that caters to MLS at the expense of everybody else who are consistently marginalized and cast aside.

Inclusive? This is a joke, right? There are countless examples of exclusivity, discrimination, and outright disregard for underserved groups. Do we need to re-hash the debate on inclusion that has been exposed endlessly in the wake of the Jonathan Gonzalez fiasco?

Transparent? Give me a break. The USSF is about as transparent as a brick wall. I will not regurgitate the numerous conflicts of interest and undue influence of SUM, but there have been several pieces and multiple lawsuits outlining the arrangements.

Here’s another clue about the sincerity of the USSF’s promise of transparency. Cordeiro does not believe in making the President a paid position, which prohibits many viable entrants from considering the role, thereby limiting the candidate pool. Moreover, it lends itself to shady (and potentially corrupt) business dealings to compensate the President’s efforts with alternative modes of remuneration.

If Cordeiro is serious about transparency and is not simply paying lip service, he should seek to disclose all pertinent compensation of USSF Board members for any soccer-related activities or other such activities that may impair their judgement in USSF matters.

Cordeiro has witnessed U.S. Soccer’s growth and then what he believes is a “plateau.”

Gee, if there was only something Cordeiro could have done to prevent such stagnation. It’s as if he had no ability to influence decision-making as a Board member or VP for the past eleven years.

“We need substantially more resources,” he said. “Germany or England—they’re over $500 million in annual expenditures. Even Spain, Italy and France are double or more where we’re at. They’re smaller economies, smaller populations, but it gives you a sense of the scope of those federations.”

“By growing the [USSF’s] financial resources, you’re able to invest more in the federation’s activities, including all your members,” he continued. “That’s my fundamental point. To get to that next level, we’re going to have to transform this organization beyond where it’s at.”

Oh, that’s interesting. We need more money? Without delving into why money won’t solve our problems, I find it convenient that a prominent decision-maker of an organization that chose to repeatedly renew its existing agreement with SUM without exploring the true market value of their broadcast rights via competitive bidding is complaining about revenues and budget.

Again, where are the investigative efforts by journalists to explore this topic? Virtually every interested party who has examined the matter suspects the USSF is getting hosed in the deal. As mentioned above, the media has a duty to promote transparency and hold truth to power.

Let’s be very clear about the business side of things. MLS readily admits it loses money and draws a meager viewing audience and yet SUM is valued at over $2 billion. You don’t have to be a financial expert to understand that the broadcast rights of USSF properties are driving that value, not fledgling MLS viewership. However, by repeatedly renewing the arrangement with SUM, the USSF has ensured that the owners of MLS are the ones reaping the benefits on the backs of USSF’s intellectual property and to the detriment of the stakeholders of soccer in America.

Kartik Krishnaiyer echoes the sentiment below.

Despite having access to the USSF annual budgets (these are public documents), the money received by the Federation for the TV rights package from SUM isn’t apparent because it is rolled into a larger line item related to sponsorships. But educated analysis by many has led to the conclusion that the Federation is being severely shortchanged its fair share of television dollars.

Henry Bushnell’s Attempt to Present Cordeiro as a Non-Status Quo Candidate

Here is a selection from Bushnell’s article on how Cordeiro distanced himself from the status quo.

The commercial committee would be chaired by one of the board’s three independent directors, and would oversee the negotiations of the federation’s business deals, including its partnership with SUM. “There has been no [board] oversight of any of our commercial activities,” Cordeiro says. “Our longer-term contracts with sponsors, broadcasters, the marketing entity, that basically has not been brought to the board for a full-fledged, vetted discussion.

I would change that. That needs much more transparency, that needs much more scrutiny, if only because of the inherent conflicts of interest. We have an exclusive marketing arrangement with SUM. SUM basically represents U.S. Soccer in its negotiations with all but one sponsor, Nike. Given the dollars involved, and the significant sums at stake, that whole exercise needs oversight at the board level.”

Why doesn’t this article challenge Cordeiro on his promises? It’s disingenuous to present these campaign pledges without the devil’s advocate side of the equation. For instance, why not ask Cordeiro if he ever raised these concerns to the Board during his eleven years? If so, how did the Board address his concerns? Did they dismiss his concerns? And so on and so forth. Cordeiro has done nothing to indicate that these words are anything but vacuous maneuvers to curry favor for his electoral victory.

Perceived Media Bias

Given the backroom dealings and intimidation that have endured for decades in US Soccer, it is critical to evaluate whether the media’s judgment has been compromised. There is evidence that the soccer media has not extended equal treatment to all parties.

For instance, after Eric Wynalda emerged as the initial and loudest symbol of the reform movement, the NY Times posted an expose on Wynalda’s financial problems. In doing so, the media demonstrated that it is capable of digging up dirt on powerful figures in US Soccer but their choice of targets casts aspersions on whether they treat all parties fairly, which is highly doubtful.

As mentioned previously, there are numerous people and relationships ripe for investigation that never went explored. Where were the stories on Gulati and Cordeiro’s relationship with Chuck Blazer and other FIFA miscreants? It’s troubling that someone’s political viewpoints shaped the manner in which the media covered them.

And to those peddling the idea that the status quo did not win, please rationalize the post-election bashing of Wynalda and other reform candidates, for the matter. The vitriol reveals the fear that anti-establishment fervor stirred from those who are deathly afraid of change. It’s disheartening that those who fought for transparency and reform were ostracized.


Recognition of Outsider Voices that Did Offer Critique

Fortunately, although many prominent soccer journalists were guilty of a dereliction of duty, there were outsider voices who communicated harsh, but fair, criticisms where they saw appropriate. In this section, I want to give credit to those journalists who were unafraid to presented multiple sides of a story, even if they were negative.

Gabriel Marcotti’s Outsider Point of View on the USMNT’s World Cup Failure

Here is a snippet from his story.

Understand that winning three out of 10 games against this group of CONCACAF nations is really, really bad. Enough talk about how scary San Pedro de Sula is. Sure, they’re gritty and committed and proud to be playing for their country. Most national teams, including the U.S., generally are. When two teams are gritty and committed other factors make all the difference. Like the quality of the players.

Can you imagine Wahl or any of the like saying something like this? That aversion to the truth, even if it may hurt feelings, and instinct to protect the establishment is endemic.

The Ringer’s article on the Ripple Effect of US Soccer’s Exit

Here is a statement from Chris Anderson, author of The Numbers Game.

“I worry that USSF is not in a great position because there is relatively little of what you would call ‘soccer IQ’ at the highest levels of U.S. soccer,” Anderson said. “Their skill set is probably more weighted toward business as well as the politics and diplomacy at the FIFA and CONCACAF level than toward understanding the elite game.”

Ding Ding Ding! Talk about hitting the nail on the head. It’s startling to consider that Cordeiro, whose biggest weakness is his lack of soccer knowledge, was elected. His modesty does negate his ignorance.

Parker Cleveland’s Rebuttal to Gulati’s Remakes at the US Youth Soccer Gala in Philadelphia

Here are some excellent extracts from Cleveland’s article.

Sunil Gulati stooped pretty low when he took to the stage at the 2018 Youth Soccer Awards. Rather than talk about youth soccer, he spoke for nearly 20 minutes about what he called misconceptions about the state of soccer in the US.

Gulati begins by proclaiming that he wants to address misinformation in the USSF campaign. The current USSF president did this by illustrating that truth is a subjective idea, creating a narrative around the federation that diminishes its failures while passive-aggressively criticizing the ideas of some candidates. None of what Gulati brings up responds to why there is so much discontent with the federation that he led for almost 12 years, or even acknowledges that there are challenges that need to be overcome in the next four years and beyond.

Thank you, Parker. Where can we get more stories like this that call out the USSF’s BS for what it is?

To Sunil, the discontent with the federation seems to all stem from the match in Trinidad and Tobago. In discussing that result, he seeks to minimize the relevance of other failures of the federation saying, “we sent the most successful coach in the history of American soccer… with virtually a healthy team, and we lost a game.”

That’s it – one game. A single game to Trinidad and Tobago. That is the entirety of the problems the federation has.

Not losing four games, including two at home, in the Hex. Not failing to appear in the men’s Olympic tournament since 2008. Not failing to win more than two Men’s World Cup games since 2002. Not the fact that the USWNT scored just one goal in their last tournament. The idea that losing one game – one – to Trinidad and Tobago is why discussions have emerged about the federation’s challenges is a mind-bogglingly obtuse premise upon which to base a defense of the federation.

That is how you convey a story and report the truth. How come there weren’t other journalists calling out Gulati’s pitiful tirade for what it was – an unsuccessful attempt to re-write history, save face and protect his legacy?

Moreover, why weren’t his numerous assertions investigated? Gulati makes several statements about FIFA compliance conflicting with U.S. law, training and solidarity payments, and conversations with the MLSPU. I would love to understand if what he said is true, but I have yet to see a media outlet investigate those claims. To me, that shows the media either does not care or is incapable of pursuing such matters, which is a shame.


The Hypocrisy of the “A few Inches / One Game” Argument

In the previous passage, Gulati attempted to peddle a reality in which everything was honky dory for US Soccer, and, had “one game” (or had the ball rolled “a few inches” the other way) transpired differently, everything would be fine.

The “inches wide” concept is extremely important and delves into the nuances required to critically evaluate performance. However, I continue to see it repeatedly misused in attempts to control the narrative and spin the facts.

The truth is the USMNT were mightily close (which probably exacerbated the tragedy) to qualifying for the World Cup, and, if the ball had bounced differently on one play, the USMNT would be preparing for Russia in a few months. That the ball bouncing one way or the other happened to have large ramifications (making vs not making the World Cup) should not overshadow the big picture.

The fact that narrative swings so wildly depending on one bounce of the ball demonstrates the lack of sophistication of the media. The story, whether the ball rolled in or out, was the USMNT’s dreadful qualifying campaign. They won 3 of 10 matches. Their record on the road was 0-2-3. They finished fifth out of sixth in CONCACAF. That performance is atrocious.  And what’s alarming is that this did not come out of the blue – as mentioned above, the USMNT has been experiencing a declining trend in their performance.

I’m tired of witnessing USSF officials hawk the “one game” excuse to assuage criticism. It’s shameful to use “one game” when it’s in your favor and to ignore it when it’s contrary to your interests. For example, the USSF constantly champions the USMNT’s quarterfinal run in the 2002 World Cup and the semi-final victory over Spain in the 2009 Confederation Cup (probably the two crowning achievements in USMNT history).

What the USSF neglects to mention is the USMNT, in control of their own destiny, laid an egg against Poland (losing 3-1 after falling behind 3-0) in the final game of the 2002 group stages and was all but eliminated until South Korea earned an unlikely 1-0 victory against Portugal in their final game. Absent the assist from South Korea, there is no magical quarter-final run in 2002, but, you’ll nary hear that version of events from the USSF. I haven’t heard Gulati use “one game” in reference to the final matchday of Group D in 2002.

The USMNT benefited from similar good fortune in 2009 where it advanced to the semi-finals despite going 1-2 in the group stages with 3-1 and 3-0 losses to Italy and Brazil, respectively. On the final matchday of the group stages, the USMNT needed to overcome a six goal differential, which they miraculously did thanks to a 3-0 win over Egypt, a 3-0 win by Brazil over Italy, and a tiebreaker rule (scoring one more goal than Italy in the group stages). Barring Brazil’s blowout, the USMNT exits the tournament with little to show for itself. Again, this is largely forgotten by the USSF but qualifies for their definition of “one game”.

Here’s a litmus test. Had the USMNT qualified for the World Cup, how do you think they would fare in Russia? Before diving into some facts, ask yourself what your honest expectation would have been. I contend that the USMNT would have bowed out in the group stages after a largely underwhelming set of performances, and believe there is little rationale argument to suggest otherwise.

The USMNT’s World Cup record in Europe is 0-8-1 with a -14 goal differential. The USMNT failed to win an away game in the Hexagonal. The USMNT averages well below one win per World Cup. So, Gulati, I think the relevant points are how close the USMNT were to failure that one bounce of the ball could even factor into their qualifying campaign[2] and that, even if the USMNT did qualify, recent performance and history would suggest the USMNT would struggle mightily in Russia.


Implications for Cordeiro’s Reign

What does all of this mean for Cordeiro and what should we expect from his Presidency?

Revisiting His Platform

Let’s start by returning to Cordeiro’s campaign platform, which urges US Soccer to “Aim Higher”. After carefully reading his website and digesting most of his media forays during the campaign, I am left unimpressed and underwhelmed.

Cordeiro’s Presidential campaign consists primarily of what I refer to as “ideas of ideas”. He has few direct plans or action items. There are few concrete ideas with a clear directive; instead, he trumpets sweeping platitudes (i.e. “promote a more unified Youth Soccer landscape”, “grow adult soccer”, and “treat referees with greater respect”). These amorphous goals are immeasurable and purposely imprecise to curtail scrutiny.

Many of his ideas have indirect objectives (“create a new Membership Department”, “increase support for professional leagues”, and “appoint a Director of Diversity & Inclusion”). These actions are faux accomplishments and, in essence, kick the can down the road. Create membership department. Great, now they can figure out the nitty gritty. His goals are pitstops on directionless journeys hoping to determine the destination along the way. His platform consists of appointing GMs who, in turn, will then make decisions and forming additional committees to oversee certain activities

I’m not against these governance ideals in concept, but I am concerned by them in practice, particularly considering the absence of any other direct ideas, because they indicate a man without a plan. Division of labor is fantastic, and I am happy to move away from the autocratic tendencies of Gulati’s Presidency, but it is important to have a leader who knows what he is doing so he can provide direction, guide conversations, and identify key priorities to address.

Cordeiro is a sitting VP and long-time Board member. If he harbored any intentions of running for President, which he obviously did, he should be able to hit the ground running from day one. He has been equipped with every tool at his disposal to insert himself into the job right away. However, I don’t see any direction from his platform other than instituting better governance controls. Does anyone have any sense of what type of soccer decisions Cordeiro will advocate?

More importantly, I don’t believe additional committees or appointments are the change agent or catalyst that US Soccer needs, particularly when made by the USSF Board members who have demonstrated an unsatisfactory track record of decision-making and a proclivity towards favoritism of SUM / MLS at the expense of the greater good of US Soccer as a whole.

I believe Cordeiro’s reputation has benefited from a couple of undeserved factors. One, by simply not being Gulati, he has been absolved of any sins, ill will, or baggage associated with Gulati’s tenure. Gulati has served as scapegoat for the entirety of the USSF, leaving other guilty parties, like Cordeiro, unscathed in the court of public opinion.  Second, Cordeiro is a blank slate who has kept a low public profile so there is not much known about him and he comes off as inoffensive. People can project onto him their own views since he has little public record to contradict or dispute those projections.

In summation, I find the lack of substance and details of his ideas to be concerning. Cordeiro does not explain how he will execute any of his promises. How will he be held accountable for such indeterminate and nebulous goals? His notion of empowering the Board and stripping unilateral authority away from the Presidency is admirable, but that demands a lot from a Board whose track record does not instill confidence in being able to effectively govern and decision-make.

Moreover, these ideas are agnostic to Cordeiro’s Presidential victory and could have been raised at any point during his time on the Board, independent of whether he won the election or continued in his role as VP, which better suits his skill set. In closing, I’m left wondering what Cordeiro will do that makes his Presidency any different than that of Gulati because I’m struggling to see any meaningful divergence.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Now that we have covered what he has said, let’s review what he has done during his time in power and what he indicated he will do during his Presidency.

Based on what Cordeiro has said in recent months, he clearly disagreed with Gulati’s single-headed leadership style. However, if that’s the case, that means Cordeiro sat idly while Gulati flexed his autocratic muscles for more than a decade. We have no evidence he ever raised those concerns to the Board? What does that say about his propensity to empower his Board members? I guess it’s another case of do as I say, not as I do.

Practically the only thing Cordeiro (and Gulati has echoed) has consistently reiterated is the fact that his number one priority is to secure the 2026 World Cup bid, which speaks volumes and tips Cordeiro’s hand. There is a reason the establishment candidates focused an undue amount of attention on the World Cup bid, whereas the reformers focused their attention elsewhere.

First, let’s be clear. Landing the 2026 World Cup bid does not fix any structural or systemic issues with US Soccer. Just as the 1994 World Cup and the 2016 Copa America Centenario did not solve US Soccer’s problems, neither will hosting the 2026 World Cup.

What the 2026 World Cup does bring is money and lots of it. It is important to understand who stands to benefit from this cash infusion, namely SUM / MLS and the USSF, though, to a lesser extent. SUM / MLS, who expect to continue to control the broadcast rights during the 2026 World Cup, stand to see their wallets explode if North America lands the World Cup bid. The USSF, as co-host, will rake in cash from ticket sales and corporate sponsorships.

Cordeiro’s World Cup prioritization answers the question of what his motivations are, how he thinks about the role of the USSF, and who he serves. It also strengthens his link to Gulati. Hosting a World Cup is not a panacea to all that ails US Soccer. It will stockpile the coffers of SUM / MLS and the USSF so I understand why Cordeiro (and Gulati) are motivated to pursue it, but it’s not the solution.

Shifting gears, let’s explore Cordeiro’s so-called “departure” from Gulati.

If Cordeiro, is so different from Gulati, we should expect him to address some of those issues (mentioned in Gulati’s post-mortem) right away, right?

Will he be as transparent as he proclaims to be?

Will he disclose the pertinent details of concealed arrangements with SUM to allay concerns of perceived MLS favoritism?

Will he vow to eliminate conflicts of interest and perceived biases of USSF Board members?

Will he address gender inequality?


Inclusion / Outreach to Diverse communities?

Player development, scouting, and player identification?

Promotion & Relegation?

Ongoing litigation against the USSF / its Board members?

Declining results from both the men’s and women’s national teams?

How about training and solidarity payments?

As detailed in Liviu Bird’s interview with Hugo Schoukens, CEO of Double PASS, the USSF has directly dis-incentived player development in America.     

“Why should [the academies] do this [work without reward]?” he said. “There is always the intrinsic motivation, but there is also the extrinsic motivation. By the end, people can be idealists, but at a certain moment, that ends.”

You’d think a Goldman Sachs banker (or former World Bank economist, for that matter) would understand this simple principle of economics. Based on their actions, it appears their (Cordeiro, Gulati, and USSF) primary economic concerns are the enrichment of their close circle of friends and colleagues at SUM / MLS.

How about fostering and cultivating grassroots soccer?

I highly doubt it. Read these player tribune articles from Kimmich, Jesus, Alves, and Marcelo. There are many commonalities in their stories – perseverance, determination, ambition, confidence, overcoming serious trials and tribulations, sacrifice, etc… Think about the US Soccer landscape. These qualities are, by and large, absent.

Speaking of The Player’s Tribune, recall what Pulisic asserts was the biggest break in his career – his Croatian passport. He does not cite any USSF initiative; instead, he credits his escape route from US Soccer as his most important opportunity. He also notes the disparity between soccer cultures in other countries where soccer is part of the “social fabric” and permeates the cultural “sense of identity” relative to the U.S.

Geoff Cameron echoes and elaborates on Pulisic’s sentiments. He describes the mentality required to make it in Europe and contrasts that with the American modes of thinking that center on physical attributes and reputation rather than ability, attitude, and drive. It’s too bad his words fell onto deaf ears at the USSF election.

I am unconvinced by Cordeiro. I think we will see the same misguided and ineffectual attempts at solutions under his administration as that of Gulati. I think the list of problems shown above will expand, rather than contract, under his leadership.


A Call to Action

Now that I have shared my thoughts on US Soccer’s numerous problems, I’d like to offer some calls to action that can help ameliorate the state of soccer in America. Here are some suggestions on how they media can conduct themselves to stimulate a productive journalistic landscape.

Quickly Distill and Establish Cordeiro’s Goals and Objectives

By the end of the month, which is more than generous considering Cordeiro’s tenure on the Board, the media should ascertain in precise detail what Cordeiro endeavors to achieve. Then, in four years, it will be relatively straightforward to assess his performance and evaluate whether he accomplished his objectives.

In the next few weeks, we will see which media members are serious and which are pawns for the establishment. Look out for folks who try to understand (and get on the record) what Cordeiro’s goals are and establish the framework by which he should be evaluated and held accountable (which did not occur for Gulati). Look out for folks who push Cordeiro to distill concrete policies and action items rather than the vague, sweeping platitudes he touted throughout his campaign. Look out for folks who challenge Cordeiro to answer why these agenda items were not pursued during his decade plus tenure on the Board and as VP.

It’s shameful that the USSF voting constituencies did not demand this level of detail and transparency (buzzword!) from each of the candidates prior to the election and this must be done after the fact.

Perform Investigative Journalism to Find Truth, Uncover Skeletons, and Keep People Honest

For example, investigate the cognitive dissonance displayed in Grant Wahl’s article to discover why fans feel so differently than the USSF voting constituents and to determine how they can have their voices heard.

For a more concrete example, look no further than the recent announcement of US national team friendlies, which include a USMNT’s game vs Paraguay scheduled to be played at WakeMed Soccer Park, a 10,000 seat stadium in Cary, NC, that does not meet the USSF’s own minimum stadium capacity requirement for division one sanctioned professional soccer teams. If this stadium is acceptable for our national team, the crown jewel of the federation, why is it insufficient for a professional team?

The truth is the USSF is a hypocritical organization that plays fast and loose with its own rules. In reality, US national team attendance, both for men and women, has been weak, and the USSF does not want to project an image of weakness by hosting another game at a half empty stadium. As such, their solution is to play this upcoming, meaningless friendly in a stadium that they argue is too small to comply with the professional standards of a division one team. It is completely bogus. This is the type of organization that the USSF is.


Insights / Ruminations from Thoughtful Journalism

Billy Haisley’s Meditation on the USSF Election

Kudos to Billy Haisley for his reflections on the election. He nails it.

In the end what won Cordeiro the election was his riding that middle road as a candidate open to change yet also one close enough to the establishment not to rock the boat too hard.

But this vision of his makes the same mistake as most attempts at technocratic leadership do by pretending things like efficiency and expertise can supersede things like philosophies and principles. The big questions facing American soccer aren’t ones that can be resolved through savvier execution of U.S. Soccer’s current strategies; they’re ones that require a philosophical rethinking of the kind of soccer country we want to be and how we can get there—a re-evaluation of the game’s foundational principles. It’s not a matter of doing the things we’re already doing, just doing them better; it’s a matter of coming up with an entirely new way of doing things. Promotion and relegation won’t just happen overnight because some accountant crunched the numbers and his calculator spat back a projected income level higher than the previous year’s. It’ll take a serious, iconoclastic leader to propose and enforce things like that, and decisions on that level are the kinds we’ll need if we’re ever to become a top soccer nation.

This times a million! The problems facing US soccer require “philosophical rethinking”. US Soccer’s failings are not a result of poor execution of a sound plan, though execution is certainly not a strength of US Soccer. US Soccer’s failings are the pursuit of wrong-headed foundational principles. I won’t belabor the arguments made by many on the merits of promotion and relegation, but they argue persuasively for a seismic shift in the tectonic plates of US Soccer’s bedrock.

Ideally it would be the U.S. Soccer president who would have this vision for a new and improved American soccer system and with their mandate go about effecting the changes they see as necessary for the sport’s advancement. Cordeiro, however, didn’t run on any broad philosophical platform, and apparently doesn’t see the need for any serious rethinking of the status quo—hence his hands-off, technocratic campaign. In fact, his whole plan is to minimize the position of the presidency altogether. This would further empower the U.S. Soccer board as the true force driving the sport, with the non-ideological president and his GMs merely serving to best implement the practices the board favors. And something tells me—as evidenced by the presidential voting itself, which overwhelmingly favored Cordeiro and Carter, the two establishment candidates—that the board’s preferred future doesn’t include much in the way of seismic shifts to the existing soccer structure.

Ultimately, all we can do is wait and see. Cordeiro could be the agent for change he claims to be, though there’s no real reason to believe it sans any hard proof, not after he’d been Gulati’s right-hand man for years and never pushed through any of the kinds of changes he now claims to support. More likely is that he’ll be a president much like Gulati, one widely popular with the contented figures at the top of U.S. Soccer and not the visionary we need to prioritize the game’s development over empty financial growth.

Again, well said. Cordeiro “doesn’t see the need for any serious rethinking of the status quo”. Spot on. This will be four more years along the same trajectory. Cordeiro will implement sounder governance, but the people at the table and the agenda – increasing USSF revenues, promoting MLS, and securing the 2026 World Cup bid – are the same.

If there is any hope for soccer’s future, however, it’s that the American fanbase has finally awoken to the fact that the current trajectory of American soccer is far short of the path we should be on, and that it will take new ideas for this country to realize its enormous potential in the sport. That candidates like Wynalda and Kyle Martino and Hope Solo got as far as they did and engendered such fervent support from fans does prove there is a very real hunger out there for significant alterations to how soccer is coached and played and developed and structured around here, which is a legitimately heartening sign even if the majority of those inside U.S. Soccer think things are fine as is. So while Cordeiro looks like he’ll probably be more of the same, it’s incumbent on the rest of us to continue to make it clear that more of the same will not cut it.

Perfectly said! The goal should be to continue to prove to the masses that the status quo is ineffectual and to organize a credible movement capable of toppling the power structure at the USSF.

John Mozena on the USSF Election

Mozena, quoting Milton Friedman, makes an astute point.

As Nobel laureate economist and political philosopher Milton Friedman once explained:

“I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either, or if they try, they will shortly be out of office.”

In other words, reformers can’t just keep Kathy Carter or similar MLS-first stakeholders from being elected to run U.S. Soccer. They need to create an environment where Cordeiro or Carter or whomever else is given power within the system knows that their position is dependent on working in the best interests of the broad mass of kids, adults, clubs, supporters, companies and communities that make up “American soccer” instead of MLS or any other singular interest.”

Given the voting structure at the USSF, an alternative pathway to defeating the current “MLS-first” regime is to swing the incentives away from MLS and towards the masses. If fans and organizations continue to demand transparency, to force the USSF to be held accountable to all stakeholders, to reject the status quo (and its mediocre results), and to fight the inequities of the USSF via litigation, perhaps we can sway the pendulum away from the few and towards the masses.



Following everything that’s transpired in recent months (and really for decades), I, and I know I speak for scores of US fans, am left with nothing but a sour taste in my mouth and am resigned to cynicism when it comes to the USSF. I have serious concerns about the competence and aptitude of those appointed to lead and cultivate soccer, to all stakeholders, in America.

The USSF Presidential election was an inflection point and an opportunity for much-needed change that was denied. Despite numerous and recurring examples of failures and missteps, it was not until the biggest shoe dropped – missing the World Cup – that any real conversation started taking place. And, yet, that catastrophic failure did not spark any fundamental change.

Garber and Carter still wield their power at SUM / MLS, Gulati is still intimately involved with US Soccer as an USSF Board member and chair of the World Cup bid, and Cordeiro shifts one seat over from VP to President.

The prioritization of landing the 2026 World Cup bid is the red herring that exposes Cordeiro’s and the USSF’s motivations. It is meant to make money and benefit SUM / MLS, but neither of those outcomes will solve US Soccer’s problems. We could drop a billion dollars into the USSF bank account overnight, and they would have no idea how to spend it effectively to galvanize meaningful change. There is no substitute for an open market with opportunity for everyone. No amount of grants, futsal courts, or coaching subsidies can replace the incentives of a meritocratic, open pyramid.

I’m unconvinced we won’t be standing in an eerily similar position in four years. In all likelihood, given our structural advantages and despite repeated bouts of ineptitude, we will qualify for the next World Cup[3] though I have little faith that the critical issues will be resolved. I’m sure Cordeiro will “do” things, but I don’t believe he or anyone on the Board has the wherewithal to elicit the necessary reforms.

If we didn’t overhaul the system on the heels of our biggest failure in history, what makes me think we are heading down any path other than the current rudderless USSF / MLS ship?

The next key opportunity for change to monitor is the VP opening[4]. How the USSF handles the VP opening will signal which direction the USSF is heading. Moreover, if a “reformer” candidate becomes VP they will have the chance to initiate reform and will likely have the inside track to the Presidency in four years.

After a week of reflection, I’m left with similar emotions as I started but with one key difference. Although I fear we may be resigned to another decade of mediocrity as Cordeiro and Gulati single-mindedly focus on landing the 2026 World Cup bid, I have a renewed sense of hope that the agents of change will not retreat or surrender. Instead, they will continue their fight because I think they can and will make the difference. There are too many people determined to crusade against the USSF and will not back down until the changes needed in US Soccer are achieved.

[1] If he had any chance of winning, the US Soccer is even more broken than I thought, and you’re currently reading my dissertation on the topic.

[2] For reference, the USMNT had safely achieved qualification prior to the last matchday for each World Cup since 1994.

[3] Thought I don’t think it is as highly probable as most would suspect. CONCACAF is becoming more competitive and the USMNT will not be able to sleepwalk their way through the Hex.

[4] The options are to i) leave the position vacant until next AGM in 2019, ii) convene a special meeting to conduct an election, or iii) conduct an election through a mail ballot.