Monday, September 8, 2008

Debunking a myth

There is an adage in CONCACAF that seems to be prevalent, one that American coaches and players alike say all the time.

"It's tough to play away in CONCACAF."

I've found startling new evidence that may help enlighten us all on just how tough it is to play away in CONCACAF.

Now, if you are talking about physically going down to a CONCACAF nation and playing a game of soccer, that may well be tough. There can be some hectic travel involved, you might play on a bad field and the fans hate the US and all that stuff. Fine. But in terms of pulling out results, it's NOT tough to play away in CONCACAF.

For the lesser teams I suppose it is. I didn't check to see how El Salvador and Honduras had done in their respective road games over the last decade. But for the US, Mexico and to a certain extent Costa Rica, aka the Big Three of CONCACAF, it's not tough to play away in CONCACAF.

To begin with, I did not count games the US played at Mexico and Costa Rica, games Mexico played at the US and Costa Rica and games Costa Rica played at the US and Mexico. Because that's part of the new redefined theorem which we'll get to later.

So anyway, save for games away to each other, the US, Mexico and Costa Rica are a collective 17-7-12 on the road in World Cup qualifying in the qualification for the 2002 and 2006 World Cups. So out of 36 games, the US, Mexico and Costa Rica lost a combined seven.

Now - here's the kicker - guess how many of those losses were from the United States? Take a second, think back, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2005...


Astounding. Really astounding. Not one loss came from the Americans. Don't believe me? Look for yourself:

T 1-1 Guatemala
W 4-0 Barbados
W 2-1 Honduras
T 0-0 Jamaica
T 0-0 Trinidad

W 3-2 Grenada
T 1-1 Jamaica
T 1-1 Panama
W 2-0 El Salvador
W 2-1 Trinidad
W 3-0 Panama
T 0-0 Guatemala

Count 'em up and you get a combined road record of 6-0-6 for the US in away games, Mexico and Costa Rica notwithstanding.

Already this cycle, we've got the US adding two wins to that collective total and bringing their own total up to 8-0-6 in qualifiers since 2000.

So when we hear how fantastic it is for the US to have pulled out 1-0 wins in Guatemala and Cuba and how all these other nations would struggle to even get to the Hex if they had to deal with the conditions the US has to deal with... well, forgive me for laughing.

So you might say 'Why don't you include away games to each other?' Well, save for Mexico at Costa Rica, the Big Three struggles at the Big Three. Costa Rica beat Mexico in 2001 in Azteca and Mexico returned the favor in Costa Rica in 2005 but aside from that the Big Three usually loses away to the other Big Three teams. Neither Mexico nor Costa Rica can touch the US here in qualifying and same is true in reverse when the US plays away to Mexico and Costa Rica.

But nobody needs worry about that. Mexico, the US and Costa Rica will lock up spots 1-2-3 in the Hex next year; who can pull out a result against the other two nations away will determine the positioning.

Thus, the new theorem which will replace the old myth is this:

Unless you are the Big Three playing at the Big Three, away games in CONCACAF are not tough.

Oooh, that's a bit wordy. Perhaps someone can offer a shorter condensed version.


Jon said...

Point taken, but I think you would do well to consider that

(a) these scores are usually less decisive than those in the home legs
(b) the games may still be more difficult, especially in terms of pitch conditions, crowd, and logistics (Guatemala moving game to Mazetenango)
(c) the U.S. needed very late goals to tie Jamaica and Panama in 05 (one of which was clearly offside)
(d) saying "road games in CONCACAF are tough" includes Costa Rica and Mexico

So while the U.S. has been successful in getting results, that does not mean it has not been tough, especially when you consider performances in Mexico and Costa Rica (the infamous Berhalter 'handball' included).

I see your point about the results, but I think 'debunking the myth' of CONCACAF road play being tough is an overstatement

Dan Haug said...

I agree with jon ^^^

Your argument is completely based on you controlling the definition for what it means to be "tough to play away in CONCACAF". You are saying "It's only tough if you lose."

If I say "tough" means close, hard-fought games that create a lot of tension. Well... the results bear that out. We have only won two out of 14 games by more than one goal. Not only that, but a number of those wins have been pulled out with last-minute goals in horrific conditions.

If you really want to make your argument, you need to first establish what the players and coaches mean when they say " it;s tough to play away in CONCACAF."

Otherwise, this is just a straw man.

Dan Haug said...

PS. It looks to me like your arguement is somewhat similar to a lot of the folks on BigSoccer who are apoplectic because we didn't win those games by 3-4 goals. If that's what you're getting at, then your argument makes even less sense.

dan said...

"So when we hear how fantastic it is for the US to have pulled out 1-0 wins in Guatemala and Cuba and how all these other nations would struggle to even get to the Hex if they had to deal with the conditions the US has to deal with... well, forgive me for laughing."

Is the point to diminish the enthusiasm about the US's two qualifier wins? Because the consensus reaction seems to be that the US should have won both more handily, not that they are cause for celebration.

So your new theorem is: except for the tough away games, away games in Concacaf are not that tough. It's hard to argue with that, but I don't really see how it's enlightening.

I agree with Dan Haug, tough doesn't just mean losing. They're hard games to play for a variety of reasons on and off the pitch, regardless of the result.

Todd said...

Talk to Ives. He just wrote a blog entry that takes the completely opposite viewpoint as yours. For the record, I agree with you.

malarimer said...

In defense of this post, a lot of people have been saying that CONCACAF away games are tough and therefore we should be happy to have grinded out (I think "lucked out" would be more accurate) two wins. They're quick to say that it wasn't long ago that we were ecstatic to qualify for the world cup and two wins on the road are evidence of just how far our country's come. What this post successfully demonstrates (in my opinion) is that we've been getting results in away legs for years...cycles...decades.

I, like any other American soccer fan, am happy to have 6 points and the top spot in the group, but I don't think I'm wrong in being less than thrilled by our performances. I expected a little more from our team--not necessarily 3-4 goal wins, but I don't think matching Guatemala's possession would have been too much to ask. I don't think letting them double our shots on target was anything to get cheer for. And there's a difference between struggling to create chances because a team is keeping 10 men behind the ball and struggling to create chances because of sloppy passing, poor handling, and bad decisions.

I'm not one of those who's calling for Bradley's head. I'm not one of those who thinks we're doomed. But I'm tired of being called a whiner because I'm not jumping up and down. Good job getting 6 points, boys, but I'm hoping to see some better play in the future.

Anonymous said...

See, AC, I agree with your article. I think people make too many excuses for the MNT. You just took one away. Good article.

John said...

Cuba was not a good team, the US should have defeated them by several goals.

I think it all has to do with the attitude the team takes. They start with this 'let's get a result on the road' mentality, and so that's all they play for.

If they went into the game with the attitude that they should completely dominate and destroy these CONCACAF minnows, then that's what they would do, IMO.

Anonymous said...

How about those gruelingly tough UEFA World Cup qualifying road campaigns... Andorra vs. England.

Lichtenstein I hear is a real house of horrors for teams.

Faroe Islands, watch out for them.


Anonymous said...

I think a more appropriate examination would be of how non concacaf teams do at central american/Mexico.

malarimer said...