CONCACAF Update – Last night of WCQ

Tonight is the last round of the Hex to determine which teams from CONCACAF automatically qualify for the World Cup Finals in Brazil.  The U.S. and Costa Rica are already in, so that only leaves one more automatic spot.  Unless something dramatic happens tonight in Costa Rica, that appears to be Honduras.  Honduras currently sits three points clear of Mexico and seemingly has the easier game — they travel to Jamaica who will be trotting out a young team in preparations for the next major tournament.

Costa Rica, on the other hand, will be playing their regulars as they host Mexico.  Mexico is three points clear of Panama, who is hosting a rotated U.S. squad, but if Panama beats the U.S. badly, depending on the score of the Costa Rica – Mexico match,  anything can happen.  Here is the current table heading into the last match:

USA 9 6 1 2 12 6 19
Costa Rica 9 4 3 2 11 6 15
Honduras 9 4 2 3 11 10 14
Mexico 9 2 5 2 6 7 11
Panama 9 1 5 3 8 11 8
Jamaica 9 0 4 5 3 11 4

The most obvious result is that USA, Costa Rica, and Honduras automatically qualify while Mexico has to play in through the playoff against New Zealand.  While there are many US fans who are glad of Mexico’s struggles, I for one want to see them in Brazil.  Their difficulties in qualification do suggest that CONCACAF has gotten stronger, but it would be a shame if our historically strongest team were missing in Brazil.  That doesn’t seem to bode well for CONCACAF going forward.

The US game and the Honduras game will be aired on beIN Sport and beIN Sport Esp.  The Mexico game will be on Telemundo. All games kickoff at 8:30 pm tonight.

European WC Playoff – How UEFA Gets to 13 Teams with 9 Groups

OK…so UEFA (Europe qualifying) gets 13 teams into Brazil for the World Cup Finals.  They start with 53 teams.  They are divided into 9 groups.  The winner of each group qualifies for the finals.  So far, that is Belgium (A), Italy (B), Germany (C), Netherlands (D), Switzerland (E), Russia (F – if they hold onto their 1-0 lead at half).  The remaining groups can go either way.  At halftime, Greece looks to go in its Group G with Bosnia-Herzegovina to playoff.  England plays Poland later with Ukraine still in the running for automatic qualification.  Assuming Spain at least draws at home to Georgia, they automatically qualify. But, how are the remaining 4 places allocated?

According to the UEFA qualifying rules, the “eight best group runners up” will contest in home and away based on a draw for the remaining four spots.  Not quite sure what that means because, in Group I, France will have played one less game than all the other potential runners up.  But, based on the schedule today, my guess is as follows:

Croatia (A), no one from Group B, Sweden C, Romania edging out Turkey in D, Iceland (hopefully) in E, Portugal in F, Bosnia-Herzegovina or Greece in G, Ukraine in H, and France in I.  The rules are vague as to how the draw is conducted — do Coca Cola rankings apply?  Surely France will not play Portugal….that would be a bummer.

One thing is clear, the playoff round will be between November 15 and 19th of this year.

World Cup Qs on Today

Get your ESPN3 ready!  Lots of important Qualifiers on today.  Here is a quick rundown:

CONCACAF (our region)

US has already qualified so they will send a less experienced squad out tonight against Jamaica.  While the drama may be over for us, it is not for Mexico.  While many perceive Mexico as the strongest of the CONCACAF squads, they are in danger of not qualifying.  In the HEX (final 6 teams in CONCACAF), the top 3 qualify for the World Cup Finals in Brazil while the 4th place team goes to a playoff against Oceania (New Zealand has already qualified).  With only 2 matches left, Mexico sits in 5th place.  They host Panama tonight in a must win.  They then travel to Costa Rica for their final game on October 15. Interestingly, Costa Rica has been dominant at home in their qualifications except for a blip against, guess who, Mexico in September.  Mexico has changed their manager.  Can they change their fortune?

Team MP W D L GF GA Pts
USA 8 5 1 2 10 6 16
Costa Rica 8 4 3 1 11 5 15
Honduras 8 3 2 3 10 10 11
Panama 8 1 5 2 7 9 8
Mexico 8 1 5 2 4 6 8
Jamaica 8 0 4 4 3 9 4

Lost in this dialogue is Honduras.  Honduras qualified for the 2010 Finals in South Africa — it was the first time they had qualified in 28 years.  They are in good position to qualify again for Brazil.  Honduras has a critical match at home today against Costa Rica and then travel to Jamaica.

UEFA (Belgium Fan Club Still Here)

Group A

Yes, this is Belgium’s golden generation — but when we adopted them, they had not qualified for a major tournament (Euros or WC) since 2002.  Sometimes “golden generations” disapoint, but not so for Belgium thus far.  With only 2 matches to play, they sit 5 points clear of Croatia, who was the group favorite on inception.  Today, in a key match, they travel to Croatia.  A draw here (or win), and they are through.  A loss at Croatia would place the focus on their home match against Wales and Croatia’s away match to Scotland.  This game is on RIGHT NOW!

Group B

Italy is solid with 7 points clear of Bulgaria.  Denmark is 1 back of Bulgaria and looking for the playoff.

Group C

Germany has appeared unstoppable, but Sweden sits only 5 points behind.  And, Sweden is home for its final 2 matches, against third place Austria with 14 points and first place Germany.  But, if Germany beats Ireland today at home, they are through.  Sweden likely playing for the playoff.

Group D

The Netherlands have wrapped up their place in the finals, but there is still a battle for the playoff spot between Hungary (14), Turkey (13), and Romania (13).  None of them play each other in the final two matches and Romania looks to have the easiest ride as both Hungary and Turkey play the Netherlands.

Group E

The Swiss are only 5 points clear of Iceland and Slovenia.  They travel to Albania today and a result there would punch their ticket.  Iceland hosts Cyprus in a likely win before traveling to Norway.  Norway could get in the playoff race with two results.  The sports-mad country still has a shot.

Group F

Portugal sits 1 point behind Russia but gets the benefit of 2 home games.  This is likely the last thrust from Portugal’s “golden generation” so we all want to see them in Brazil.  They look sure for 6 points at home against Israel and Luxembourg.  Russia, on the other hand, travel for their final 2 matches.  They have the benefit of traveling to the 2 weakest teams, but they will need to get results away to keep their lead.  The runner-up will go to the playoff.

Group G

Bosnia-Herz. and Greece are tied with 19 points each.  BIH host basement dwellers Liechten.  and travel to Lithuania, while Greece host both final matches against Liechten. and Slovakia.  This one is one to watch.  One of these teams will go to the playoff.

Group H

This is the Group that have all the English in a tizzy.  England’s (16) impotence in qualification is written about daily.  After 8 matches, they have failed to separate themselves from Ukraine (15), Montenegro (15), or Poland (13).   Everyone is watching how Hodgson does in the final 2 matches, both of which are at home, against Montenegro and Poland.  Will the play a 4-3-3 and dilute Rooney’s influence (he is not a lone striker).  Or, will they still to a more conventional 4-2-2.  Lots of opinions on England.  If they blow two home matches to secure qualification, it may just be Armageddon.  I mean, English coach?  Italian coach?  We are all tired of the excuses.

Group I

Spain and France are tied (14) atop the group but Spain has a game in hand.  France hosts Finland (9) while Spain hosts Belarus and Georgia.  Spain looks like good money to secure automatic while Lex Blues will have to go through a playoff.

CONMEBOL (South America):

The question in this group is who will be forced to play their way in in a playoff versus automatic qualification.  CONMEBOL get 4.5 places (plus Brazil).  Here is the table, with a max of 6 points remaining for most teams, watch the battle for 5th place.

Team MP W D L GF GA Pts
Argentina 14 8 5 1 30 11 29
Colombia 14 8 2 4 22 9 26
Chile 14 8 0 6 24 21 24
Ecuador 14 6 4 4 18 14 22
Uruguay 14 6 4 4 22 22 22
Venezuela 15 5 4 6 13 19 19
Peru 14 4 2 8 15 22 14
Bolivia 15 2 5 8 16 29 11
Paraguay 14 3 2 9 15 28 11

Guest Writer: Sebastian Giraldo, PhD (abd)

Seb-blog picSebastian currently resides in Corpus Christi, TX where he is co-owner of  Giraldo Elite Futbol, a full-time professional soccer training/consulting business. His PhD work at the University of Texas-Austin was in sport management with a specific focus on elite soccer development. One of his major research interests is in the cognitive development and decision making of soccer players. Sebastian has worked for Lonestar SC, Express SC (currently Houston Dynamo Coastal Bend), several other clubs around the Corpus area, and privately for many years in individual/small group skills training. He played for Southwestern University and was involved in the Texas ODP system.


Sebastian has agreed to author a series of articles reflecting his studies and work in youth soccer.  This is his first, introductory piece.

Development Series: Introduction to Development

Development has probably become the most used buzzword in U.S. soccer. People throw around the term like it is popular culture knowledge. Don’t get me wrong, as a soccer professional, I’m ecstatic that development has creeped into our daily soccer talk. However, the reality of the matter is that player development is a complex topic. And an even harsher reality is that not everyone involved in youth soccer is going to understand the theories and research that drives a lot of development ideas. If we accept these realities then I believe the development conversation becomes a much easier one to have.

A little introduction is in order. I am a soccer professional that played throughout my youth in the highest levels of the U.S. system and went on to play in college. I always had an intense passion for the game and after college decided that my future would be in soccer. I geared my education toward understanding both the management and development aspects of sport. My doctoral work in elite soccer development was a complete eye opener in regard to the overall breadth of knowledge available. People had devoted their careers to understanding proper soccer development and had produced tons of empirical work to construct theories and test these theories (quick side note: development topics range from creativity, retention and recruitment, technical vs. tactical training, learning and teaching strategies, cognitive development). My first moment of clarity in my PhD program was the understanding that the disconnect between research and the actual training that occurs in most clubs/organizations is HUMONGOUS. In the simplest terms, we know a lot about what works and doesn’t work in development but we are not applying it in training (the reasons for this disconnect are varied and complex and will be addressed in one of the installments of this development series).  All this leads me to where I am today. I am the co-owner of a private soccer training company that has implemented a unique research driven development program (Giraldo Elite Futbol- Basically, we focus on creating player training programs that are founded by actual research in soccer development. At this point, you must be thinking “what does this unique program look like?” Answer: Most likely like nothing you have ever seen before.

I need to clarify the last sentence because there are outstanding soccer professionals all over the U.S. that are doing a fantastic job in developing our youth players. These professionals that often work for the best clubs or in the U.S. system are applying many theories and ideas from development research. So yes, proper development ideas have firmly made their way into soccer training here in some areas but even in these places the overall grasp of development is somewhat superficial. Basically, they are only scraping the surface of what development research has to offer. The other side of the issue is the rest of the clubs and soccer organizations that do not fall into the top tier. While there may be anomalies, in large part these organizations are severely detached from the proper application of development concepts. So while development ideas are commonplace now in soccer talk, we are a long way off from the end goal which in my opinion is to offer proper development opportunities for the majority of U.S. youth players.

The strategic plan to spread proper development in youth soccer has to begin with education. For this reason, I am beyond excited to share my knowledge (and to be honest, nerd obsession) about development with such a wide audience. We must educate players, trainers, coaches, referees, and league officials about development. There is no way to apply some development concepts (which look drastically different than what people have been accustomed to seeing in soccer practices before) if we don’t focus on educating people about development. This is not easy as change, and especially drastic change, is usually met with resistance. Even more so when children are involved. If we focus on educating though, I believe we are making giant leaps in the right direction.

I know I have filled my first entry with some serious claims and arguments. Please know that I am always open to learning and discussion. I purposefully omitted parents/guardians from my education list in the previous paragraph for one good reason. Parents/guardians may be the most important puzzle piece in the development process. Without their support, it becomes near impossible to implement proper training programs. The education of the soccer community in regard to development begins and ends with them.

I look forward to our discussions about soccer development and this great opportunity. This was just an introduction into a series about player development and the trends in development research. If you ever want to hear about a specific topic, please send it my way and I will do my best to accommodate.

Next topic: Allowing players to develop creativity