The U.S. reached the World Cup knockout round for the second-straight tournament and the fourth time in the past six. Where does that place them in a power ranking of nations? We decided to take a look.
World Cup data is scant, spread over a long period and prone to outlying results. This renders almost any methodology imperfect. That acknowledged, we opted for simplicity. Casting back to 1986, when the 16-team knockout round was first introduced, we calculated the number of matches played per World Cup, with a couple tweaks. We excised the third-place match, to differentiate semifinalists from finalists. We added a match for the winners, to differentiate from teams they beat in the final.
Here are the results.
The results do not shock. Germany, Brazil, Argentina and Italy are the most consistent nations. A second tier of European teams – Spain, England, France, Netherlands – have their moments. The U.S. resides in a tier of middling nations below that, tied for 11th with Belgium. Had we begun from 1990, the consistent Americans would have been equal, on 3.71 matches per tournament, with the bipolar French.
While the focus is and should be on what the U.S. has left to achieve, it’s worth noting how far the U.S. has come, in the interim between German World Cup victories. What we take for granted, qualifying for every tournament, is something most nations have struggled to do. That’s before you get to advancement from the group, which will be the minimum expectation moving forward, regardless of the opposition. The current U.S. soccer status does not meet the demands set forth by American exceptionalism, but becoming an entity, in two and a half decades, has been quite an achievement.
Perusing our soccer betters, the way forward is clear: a strong professional academy system pumping disciplined, technically adept talent into a competitive MLS.