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Archive for July 7, 2022

July 7, 2022 — How to choose a zone-winner

In many world team sports, there are sometimes radically different ways to choose the teams which advance from the continental championships to the world tournament or tournaments. They change by sport, by region, and even by gender.

In soccer, American men had two different paths to the World Cup and the Olympics. The senior men’s national team had to qualify for the World Cup through a league which saw the Americans play seven home games and seven road games at each of the CONCACAF rivals. The U.S. team had to endure the humidity of Honduras, the heat of Jamaica, the altitude of Mexico, and the cold of Canada.

Meanwhile, the men’s U-20 team needed only to play in one two-week tournament in Honduras in order to qualify for both the U-20 World Cup and the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The same can be said for the U.S. women’s national team, which is competing in the Concacaf W championship in Mexico. With just two wins, the United States, the dominant power in the sport since the inaugural Women’s World Championship in 1991, qualified for the 2023 World Cup in Australia & New Zealand.

Yep, just like that — with a 3-0 win over Haiti and a 5-0 win over Jamaica, the States became one of the four CONCACAF sides who will be in the tournament next year.

There is further gold down the road. If the States are able to win the tournament final, they’ll qualify automatically for the 2024 Olympics in Paris. If not, however, there is a playoff between the silver- and bronze-medal finalists which is slated for September of 2023. This means that the team that loses the final of this tournament (likely the U.S. or Canada) has to wait for more than a year to beat the third-place team for that final continental berth.

Somehow that doesn’t seem right.