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. Petr Cech is giving Thibaut Courtois safety tips

    Oct 20, 2014, 8:40 AM EDT

    Chelsea v Arsenal - Premier League Getty Images

    The Chelsea backup is teaching his replacement how to stay safe from head injuries, which have affected both keepers.

  2. Premier League Playback: Liverpool can’t get rid of Luis Suarez hangover

    Oct 20, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT

    Queens Park Rangers v Liverpool - Premier League Getty Images

    PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an in-depth look at the PL during Week 8.

  3. Neil Warnock says Chelsea players influenced referee

    Oct 20, 2014, 7:43 AM EDT

    Crystal Palace v Chelsea - Premier League Getty Images

    In a game that saw both sides reduced to ten men, the Crystal Palace manager believes the referee could have done better.

  4. MUST SEE: Wesley Sneijder scores two wonder goals

    Oct 19, 2014, 11:38 PM EDT

    Galatasaray AS v RSC Anderlecht - UEFA Champions League Getty Images

    The Dutch midfielder scored off two ridiculous strikes to lead Galatasary over rivals Fenerbahce.

  5. MLS Sunday roundup: Seattle spoils Donovan’s last home game

    Oct 19, 2014, 11:05 PM EDT

    San Jose Earthquakes v Los Angeles Galaxy Getty Images

    The Sounders came from 2-0 down to steal a draw in Los Angeles at Landon Donovan’s final regular season home game.

  6. Bayern Munich bag six without allowing a single shot

    Oct 19, 2014, 10:13 PM EDT

    FC Bayern Muenchen v SV Werder Bremen - Bundesliga Getty Images

    Werder Bremen became the first team without a shot in a Bundesliga game as Bayern continues to cruise.

  7. Where does Sergio Aguero rank with the world’s best?

    Oct 19, 2014, 9:09 PM EDT

    Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Getty Images

    The Argentinian forward is scoring goals at a blistering pace for Manchester City. Could he be the most lethal striker in Europe?

  8. La Liga and Serie A roundup: Ronaldo, Messi continue to dominate

    Oct 19, 2014, 8:15 PM EDT

    Levante UD v Real Madrid CF - La Liga Getty Images

    Catch up on all of this weekend’s action from Spain and Italy’s top flights.

  9. Sunderland goalkeeper wants to reimburse fans

    Oct 19, 2014, 7:07 PM EDT

    Southampton v Sunderland - Premier League Getty Images

    After an ugly 8-0 thrashing at Southampton, Vito Mannone said he will try to pay back fans who travelled to the game.

  10. Michael Bradley to Jurgen Klinsmann: ‘I have thick skin’

    Oct 19, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT

    USA Training & Press Conference - 2014 FIFA World Cup Getty Images

    The American international responded to Jurgen Klinsmann’s recent criticism of his return to the MLS.

  11. Malky Mackay likely to go unpunished over texting scandal

    Oct 19, 2014, 5:21 PM EDT

    Liverpool v Cardiff City - Premier League Getty Images

    The private nature of Mackay’s texts may help him steer clear of FA charges.

  12. Gareth Bale could miss Champions League clash vs. Liverpool

    Oct 19, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT

    Wales v Cyprus - EURO 2016 Qualifier Getty Images

    Bale did not play in Real Madrid’s match against Levante while nursing a muscle injury.

  13. WATCH: Argentinian 3rd division game abandoned after brawl, 12 red cards

    Oct 19, 2014, 3:35 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 2.50.49 PM

    12 players sent off, an ambulance called, and riot police on the field. That was the carnage from an ugly brawl in Argentinian soccer.

  14. WATCH: Garry Monk claims Stoke penalty was “absolutely disgusting”

    Oct 19, 2014, 2:56 PM EDT

    Monk Getty Images

    The Swansea manager was furious following a soft penalty given for a foul on Victor Moses, suggesting his club has been hard done by referees plenty this season.

  15. Carlo Ancelotti delcares Raheem Sterling is “not in” Real Madrid’s plans

    Oct 19, 2014, 2:17 PM EDT

    Ancelotti Getty Images

    Raheem Sterling faced criticism from the British media for his fitness, but he was also rumored to be wanted by Real Madrid. Ancelotti says don’t believe the rumors.

  16. Redknapp condemns “overweight” Adel Taarabt in presser rant

    Oct 19, 2014, 1:35 PM EDT

    Redknapp Getty Images

    The QPR manager loved what he saw on the field at Loftus Road despite the loss. Off the field is a different story.

  17. Stoke 2-1 Swansea: Substitutes pick up three points for the Potters

    Oct 19, 2014, 12:53 PM EDT

    StokeCity Getty Images

    Jonathan Walters scored the winner off the bench as Stoke City grabbed a much-needed three points.

  18. VIDEO: Redknapp says QPR performance in 3-2 loss best he’s ever seen

    Oct 19, 2014, 12:26 PM EDT

    Redknapp AP

    Harry Redknapp was left flabbergasted after his side performed well but fell 3-2 after a bonkers last five minutes at Loftus Road.

  19. Liverpool must improve, and they know it, despite late win at QPR

    Oct 19, 2014, 11:52 AM EDT

    Rodgers and Liverpool performed poorly, as life after Luis is hitting the Reds hard. Getty Images

    Rodgers, Gerrard know the Reds were fortunate to leave West London with all three points. But they’ll take it.

  20. Watch Live: Stoke City vs. Swansea City (Lineups)

    Oct 19, 2014, 10:58 AM EDT

    Britannia Getty Images

    Two teams who have dipped in form look to get back on track at the Britannia.

Featured video

Week 8: Saturday PL recap