Rankings and Ramblings

FIFA Decides the U.S. Is Now the 13th Best Team

The real day the U.S. soccer community has been waiting for has finally arrived and the U.S. has vaulted to 13th in the newly released FIFA rankings. Jon Arnold examines whether or not this should move the needle.
BY Jon Arnold Posted
September 12, 2013
12:38 PM
The latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking is out, and the United States is now the 13th-best team in the world.

On the face of things, the new ranking—six higher than their previous slot—gives a bit of hope the Americans could crack the top-seven-teams-not-named-Brazil list and become one of the seeded teams at the World Cup. In reality, getting the 130 points needed in the formula could be a big ask. Uruguay picked up 128 in the previous cycle to nab the seventh spot but more frequently plays matches important in FIFA's formula that multiplies the result by the difficulty of the tie by the strength of the opponent and its federation.

Of course, that's all if FIFA decides to use the same system it did last time around to seed World Cup pots, and with FIFA a system switch isn't out of the question.

Other than the potential for a World Cup seed, the rankings are largely meaningless, something laid bare recently when Brazil went into the Confederations Cup, which it eventually won, as the 22nd-best team in the world—below a struggling Mexico and Ghana, among others. The Samba Boys are back into the upper echelon, now ranked 8th, but show that the system still needs some work after the U.S. was ranked fifth in March 2006 and then became the fourth-best team in the rankings the next month.

To be fair to the rankings, assigning value can be tough enough when trying to select a college football national champion. That's a sport in which all games are readily available on television and teams are playing opposition of generally known quality. And yet rankings culled by both computers and humans are pocked with errors.

Rating national teams is even more difficult. There are a number of other attempts to quantify where each national team fits, but there hasn't been a system that really clicks. The Elo ratings have long been held as a higher standard than FIFA's system (though in the scheme of things they're less important because they don't help teams pave easier paths at World Cups). But even Elo puts the U.S. just two ticks below FIFA's rating at the 15th spot.

Have Jurgen Klinsmann's side's strong showings of late solidified that the Stars and Stripes belong in the top 15? Ultimately, the next international matches are the only things that will tell us. The U.S. isn't quite within striking distance of the seeds, but it's possible if it continues winning international matches it will keep climbing up the rankings. The manager has already said he's going to take the final two Hex matches seriously, but this could provide more motivation to do so.

Do you think the U.S. is overrated, underrated, or is 13th in the world about right? Should American fans care about FIFA rankings? Let us know in the comments below.

Jon Arnold is an ASN contributing editor. Follow him on Twitter.

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