Ives Galarcep absolutely flips his shit over CONCACAF’s proposed changes to its World Cup qualifying process. I’m feeling lazy, so I’ll let Ives summarize.
Galarcep goes on to add that he thinks this will destroy the US rivalry with Mexico.
Allow me to posit this counter. Maybe it’s time for both the US and Mexico to treat this as a “trial separation” and an opportunity for both sides to find higher, more ambitious barometers of success than merely beating each other. I think both the USA and Mexico have sort of outgrown this rivalry (and probably outgrown CONCACAF but that’s a different column) and would benefit from an overall organizational focus away from each other and instead towards challenging the best of Europe and South America, precisely the kinds of teams neither team ever beats on the big stage.
As much fun as the USA-Mexico qualifiers are (and I’ve been to three of them, including one at Azteca), are they even really meaningful? The two teams always qualify and the games pretty much just exist to line the respective federations’ coffers while allowing both sides’ passionate fanbases to hurl invectives at each other. But in order for it really to be a rivalry don’t the matches have to mean something? And the reality, the Mexico-USA qualifiers don’t mean all that much competitively. It’s not hard for either the US or Mexico to get out of CONCACAF’s final round regardless of how the six points at stake between them are distributed.
Will qualifying be a little bit less fun if the USA doesn’t play Mexico? Of course, but the new system isn’t all bad. Here’s why.
1) Believe it or not, qualifying actually gets more difficult and thus will better prepare our players for the proper matches at the World Cup tournament itself. With only one team getting an automatic qualifying spot out of each proposed final round group, that makes each and every final round match really, really meaningful. Ives views that as a bad thing. I view it as a positive. More truly meaningful matches are a good thing, no matter what.
2) This system will help the US get the World Cup in 2022. I figure that this format change was what the smaller Caribbean countries asked for in return for Jack Warner and CONCACAF assuring the US its unanimous support behind the World Cup bid. No deal within FIFA or especially CONCACAF comes for free and this new format is the “fee” US Soccer was forced to pay in order to get CONCACAF to march as one. When the US does get the 2022 World Cup, this will be one of the reasons why.
3) If ESPN/Telemundo/Univision want to keep the USA-Mexico rivalry alive, then go out and find a business (or Carlos Slim) with big markets on both sides of the Rio Grande to sponsor a two match series of friendlies between the USA and Mexico. Call it the Wal-Mart Cup and, in order to ensure folks take this seriously, put up a big cash prize to the winners. Sure it’d be a purely made-for-TV spectacle, but what US-Mexico match isn’t?
4) With a weak first round-robin of matches under the new format, there are plenty of opportunities for the US to do some “evangelizing” in new/different venues. There are lots of great and increasingly even soccer-specific stadiums in markets that really might get excited for a US match coming to town, even if it’s against the British Virgin Islands. Don’t just stick these matches in existing hotbeds like New York, Philadelphia and LA, even though the stadium situations there are advantageous. Instead, US Soccer should go to non-MLS markets like Raleigh, Atlanta, Omaha, Albuquerque, Honolulu and other places that could provide the USA with a good home atmosphere.