As the U.S. Men’s National Team tries to carefully navigate its way through World Cup qualifying, there’s one thing that everyone - coaches, players, fans, TV pundits, internet pundits, me - keeps saying: A point on the road is a good result.
The reasoning is sound: a team that wins all its home games and draws all its road games will finish in the top three and qualify. (This is not a mathematical certainty, but it’d be utterly amazing if it didn’t happen.) And road games in CONCACAF are difficult; either you’re playing in the cauldron of Azteca Stadium, on ice planet Hoth in Canada, or in the uncomfortable environments of the Caribbean and Central America. So, as everyone keeps saying every time the USMNT draws a road game against a seemingly beatable opponent, a point on the road is a good result.
With this in mind, I wondered what the standings would look like if we awarded points solely based on this metric. So we award no points for a home win, minus-2 for a home draw, and minus-3 for a home loss; two points for an away win, zero points for an away draw, and minus-one for an away loss.
Here’s how the standings look so far. (Pts is number of points in the table so far. Mrg is the calculation that I mentioned above. Chalk is the number of points the team would finish with if it won its remaining home games and drew its remaining away games. Home is the number of home games remaining.)
The takeaways here:
As frustrating as the USMNT’s dropped points are, they come out of this comparison in okay shape. Ultimately, their loss in Panama will be the most frustrating, since at the moment Panama is the only team throwing a wrench in the North American dominance of this qualification tournament.
Things might not be as bad as they seem for Mexico, even after losing twice in this window. They lost what are likely to be their two most difficult away trips, but they still have four home games remaining, and their two away trips are to Jamaica and Honduras. It would not be entirely surprising to see Mexico end qualifying with six consecutive wins.
Canada, leading the standings and undefeated, comes out surprisingly badly in this comparison - mostly because they’ve already played five home games. That said, they’ve already earned road draws in the USA and Mexico; even with just two home games remaining, they might have the easiest schedule overall. It feels like they’re, like, one road win away from the World Cup, for the first time since 1986 (their only previous appearance).
Seven points for Jamaica from eight games is bad, there’s no way around it. But the Reggae Boyz also have four home games, and while one is against Mexico, the other three are Costa Rica, Honduras, and El Salvador. If they can pick up points on the road against Canada and Panama they could just drag themselves back into this race.
El Salvador and Honduras are done for.
Costa Rica has maybe the hardest remaining schedule, with a trip to Mexico and home games against the USA, Canada, and Panama. They aren’t that far out of the qualification picture, but it seems like their most likely role is causing frustration for one of the top four.