Skip to content

Number crunching: How many points will get the U.S. to Brazil?

Feb 6, 2013, 3:35 AM EDT

Klinsmann-Mexico

For Tim Howard, the United States need to get points when they open final round World Cup qualifying in Honduras on Wednesday, though the difference between one and zero points in the first match of a 10-round, double round robin format can’t be that vital. At least, it can’t be that crucial mathematically. While three road points may prove huge, the effects of losing in Honduras are more likely to be psychological than mathematical.

In the four final round tournaments CONCACAF has held since going to the current format ahead of World Cup 1998, a qualifying spot has only once been decided by a point: last cycle, when Honduras pushed Costa Rica into a playoff after the two nations finished on 16 points. To subscribe to the view that the U.S. needs a point in Honduras, you have implicitly predict some major slips over the tournament’s final nine games.

The top three finishers in The Hex make Brazil, and since 1998, the tournament’s third-place finisher has averaged 15.75 points. The highest total was the U.S.’s 17 in 2002 while Jamaica managed to qualify for France 1998 when their paltry 14 points claimed third place.

CONCACAF Qualifying – By The Numbers
Four tournaments give us very little data to crunch regarding CONCACAF’s final qualifying round, but if this year’s round robin plays out like years’ past, around 16 points should get you to Brazil, while 20 will likely take the group:

Place Avg. Pts STDEV “Span”
First 20.75 2.22 18.5-23.0
Second 18.75 2.37 16.4-21.1
Third 15.75 1.26 14.5-17.0
Fourth 13.75 1.71 12.0-15.5
Fifth 9.25 1.5 7.8-10.8
Sixth 5.25 2.5 3.8-7.8

STDEV – Standard Deviation
“Span” – A completely meaningless figure based on standard deviation and the place’s average points

All those numbers support the popular refrain about home and road performance. That version of conventional wisdom holds that taking care of business at home while scrounging road results will get you to Brazil. If a team were to win all their home games, they’d be at 15 points, right next to the average total that’s qualified teams for World Cups. Swipe a couple of draws on the road, and you’re in.

If you happen to lose one at home, it’s probably not that big a deal. After all, you’re a team that’s good enough to win four out of five at home. You’re probably capable of getting more than two points on the road.

Looking at fourth place

If you’re examining at qualifying from the U.S.’s point of view, focusing on the third place numbers may exaggerate the hurdle they’re trying to leap. Obviously, the U.S. has finished in the top three in each of the last four tournaments and are expected to do the same this cycle. Their question isn’t whether they can beat out the team likely to finish third; rather, can they stay ahead of the team that will probably finish fourth?

Since 1998, The Hex’s fourth place finisher has averaged 13.75 points. The highest total was Costa Rica’s 16 last cycle, while the Ticos also have the low total: their 12 points in `98.

Conceivably, just “taking care of business” at home should keep you ahead of fourth, though assuming you don’t actually take 15 at home and get none on the road, the approach’s success may depend on whom you get your road points against. If you draw away from home versus the teams that finish fourth and fifth, being awesome at home and terrible on the road would still work. You wouldn’t be giving your direct competition valuable three-point results.

Winning at home

The win at home theory might be born from the fact that no team has been able to qualify without some modicum of success at home. Jamaica’s 1998 was the worst  home qualifying campaign for qualifiers of the last four cycles, and they still went 3-1-1. The average top-three finsher takes 12.5 points at home, though there have been a number of teams that matched Jamaica’s 10 without cracking the top three.

Breakdown – Home vs. Road
No surprise, the teams that have finished at the top of The Hex have had the most road success. While the second and third place finishers have enjoyed similar home field advantages, they have been unable to find the same success abroad.

Place Avg. Pts
Home
Avg. Pts
Road
First 12.5 8.5
Second 13.5 5.25
Third 11.5 4.25
Fourth 9.75 4
Fifth 7.75 1.5
Sixth 3.75 1

In 2006, both Trinidad and Tobago as well as Guatemala took 10 points at home, yet they finished fourth and fifth. Trinidad and Tobago later qualified for Germany via a playoff. In 1998, Costa Rica had 11 home points but only 12 overall and finished fourth. Last cycle, the Ticos took 12 at home yet finished fourth before losing in a playoff.

The two Costa Rica examples hint that winning at home may not be enough. Or more readily, no team has been able to secure a top three finish in CONCACAF without some minimal success on the road. Of the 12 teams that have won top-three finishes since the `98 cycle, nobody has failed to win at least four points on the road, and only those `98 Jamaicans failed to record a victory away from home (their four road draws helped to keep the barrier to qualify low, points-wise).

Interestingly, while third place finishers have averaged 4.25 road points per tournament, fourth place finishers have averaged a near-identical four (a number skewed by the eight road points Honduras accumulated in 2002 while failing to qualify).

Twelve of the 14 teams that got to four road points ended up qualifying for their World Cups.

The games, and the order, matter

The aggregates and averages help describe the landscape, but it’s important to remember that individual games make up those totals, and when you’re talking about a tournament like CONCACAF’s, sometimes the order of the games influences the numbers. In 2006, Mexico won five of their first six games. With qualification all but assured, El Tri could afford to cruise to a second place finish. That same year, Panama collapsed to a Hex-low two points, their insignificant closing matches contributing to a seven-game losing streak. Had the order of their games been different, their tournaments could have played out differently, with late-Hex matches having a completely different, more competitive context.

At some point, it’s more helpful to sit down, consider each game and its circumstances, and factor in the historical data when assessing not only how the States will probably perform but what they’re most likely to need to get to Brazil.

Going through that exercise so also helps maintain perspective on the U.S.’s has to opening schedule. With three out of their first four games on the road, the States could be sitting with a superficially disappointing three-to-five points come their June 11 game hosting Panama. But if you play out the rest of the tournament’s results, you see that kind of slow start won’t necessarily sidetrack the U.S.’s qualifying hopes.

Break out the pencil and paper, check out the full schedule, and play along for yourself. We’ll spare you our individual match predictions, but here’s one wild guess at how things might stand come November:

1. Mexico – 25 pts.
2. United States – 18 pts.
3. Costa Rica – 13 pts.
4. Panama – 12 pts.
5. Honduras – 10 pts.
6. Jamaica – 9 pts.

That no Hex has ever played out like this is reason to complete disregard the entire prediction. Mexico at 25 points would be the most a team’s ever accumulated in final round qualifying, a prognostication which makes sense if you think this Mexican team is the best we’ve seen in the last 16 years. Their quality plus the lack of a truly weak team means points could be more spread out than usual between the second through sixth place teams. You may not need to get to 16 this year.

But it’s way too early to know, just like it’s way too early to be taking these kind of projections seriously. After Wednesday, 90 percent of The Hex’s matches will still be on the calendar. Neither a loss nor a draw in San Pedro Sula will have much of an effect on the U.S.’s qualifying hopes.

Latest Posts
  1. Premier League Preview: West Bromwich Albion vs. Liverpool

    Apr 24, 2015, 7:46 PM EDT

    Aston Villa v Liverpool - FA Cup Semi-Final Aston Villa v Liverpool - FA Cup Semi-Final

    The Baggies must defend The Hawthorns as Liverpool is barely clinging on to top-four dreams.

  2. Hull City players face pay cuts up to 50-percent if relegated

    Apr 24, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT

    Swansea City v Hull City - Premier League Swansea City v Hull City - Premier League

    Clinging onto safety in the Premier League, Hull City players now have some added incentive to avoid the drop.

  3. Van Gaal: Ryan Giggs will be the next manager at Manchester United

    Apr 24, 2015, 5:37 PM EDT

    Manchester United Training and Press Conference Manchester United Training and Press Conference

    Still in his first season as manager at Old Trafford, LVG has already endorsed his top assistant to be the next in line.

  4. Premier League Preview: Manchester City vs. Aston Villa

    Apr 24, 2015, 4:42 PM EDT

    Can Tim Sherwood and Aston Villa continue their climb up the table at the Etihad?

  5. SportsWorld: Jose Fonte talks playing with Ronaldo, shares thoughts on MLS

    Apr 24, 2015, 3:42 PM EDT

    Tottenham Hotspur v Southampton - Premier League Getty Images

    PST’s Joe Prince-Wright sat down with the Southampton defender to see how the Saints’ skipper has evolved into one of the best center-backs in the Premier League.

  6. VIDEO: PST Extra asks if Liverpool, Manchester City should get new managers

    Apr 24, 2015, 2:50 PM EDT

    Liverpool v Manchester City Getty Images

    In the latest PST Extra we take a quick look at why whispers about managers losing their jobs at Liverpool, Man City are getting louder.

  7. Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks: Time for the underdogs to shine

    Apr 24, 2015, 2:06 PM EDT

    Chelsea v Burnley - Premier League Getty Images

    PST’s Lead Writer and Editor predicts the scores in the PL this weekend.

  8. Could Tottenham share their stadium with an NFL team? Here’s how it will work

    Apr 24, 2015, 1:25 PM EDT

    SPURSSTADIUM1

    Spurs are reportedly in talks with the NFL about housing a franchise in their new stadium.

  9. VIDEO: PST Extra picks Premier League’s Best XI from 2014-15 season. Agree?

    Apr 24, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT

    Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Getty Images

    What do you think of these 11 players getting Team of the Year honors?

  10. WATCH: NBC Sports’ Premier League TV schedule – Week 34

    Apr 24, 2015, 11:19 AM EDT

    PremierLeagueNBC

    Where and how to watch every PL game during Week 34.

  11. Jose Mourinho: “Arsene Wenger is not my rival” ahead of Arsenal vs. Chelsea

    Apr 24, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT

    WengerMourinho Getty Images

    Mourinho stirs the pot before huge clash with Arsenal on Sunday.

  12. Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. Tottenham Hotspur

    Apr 24, 2015, 9:25 AM EDT

    Tottenham Hotspur v Southampton - Premier League Getty Images

    Can Saints get revenge on Pochettino as he returns to St Mary’s? Watch live, Saturday, 7:45 a.m ET.

  13. Injury update on Chelsea’s Diego Costa. Is he fit for London derby vs. Arsenal?

    Apr 24, 2015, 8:10 AM EDT

    Chelsea v Liverpool - Capital One Cup Semi-Final: Second Leg Getty Images

    Jose Mourinho has delivered an update on Costa’s progress ahead of Sunday’s big game.

  14. Pochettino: Avoiding Europa League could help Spurs make Champions League next year

    Apr 23, 2015, 11:17 PM EDT

    Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham Hotspur FC Getty Images

    Mauricio Pochettino feels that any team not having to contend with Europa League has a better chance of qualifying for Champions League.

  15. With Manchester City circling, Bayern Munich plan to extend Pep Guardiola’s contract

    Apr 23, 2015, 10:13 PM EDT

    Pep Guardiola, FC Bayern Munich Pep Guardiola, FC Bayern Munich

    Hands off our Pep, Man City. Bayern exec says Guardiola is going nowhere.

  16. Fuel on the fire — Sporting KC’s Feilhaber says “I’ve never liked Real Salt Lake”

    Apr 23, 2015, 9:17 PM EDT

    Benny Feilhaber, Sporting KC & Kyle Beckerman, Real Salt Lake Getty Images

    Sporting KC vs. Real Salt Lake is inching ever closer to Most Hated Rivalry in MLS.

  17. Could Chelsea call upon 17-year-old striker Dominic Solanke to start against Arsenal?

    Apr 23, 2015, 7:21 PM EDT

    Dominic Solanke, Chelsea FC Getty Images

    It’s the biggest game of Chelsea’s season, and Mourinho might have to start a 17-year-old at striker.

  18. Ancelotti expects Bale, Benzema to return “quickly” for Champions League semifinal

    Apr 23, 2015, 6:11 PM EDT

    Karim Benzema & Gareth Bale, Real Madrid CF Karim Benzema & Gareth Bale, Real Madrid CF

    With the return of Bale and Benzema imminent, Ancelotti seems to think Real Madrid are the Champions League favorites.

Featured video

Should Chelsea be more entertaining?