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TANGENTS

Before The “Hex” Came A “Penta” And It Turned The USA’s World Cup Fortunes Around

Written by on January 22, 2013 | No Comments »
Posted in United States, World Cups

The CONCACAF Men’s World Cup Qualifying over the past four tournaments has been the story of the “Hex” or the Hexagonal – a final-round six-team competition for the CONCACAF berths in the World Cup. The Hex for Brazil 2014 begins this February 6 with the U.S. visiting Honduras, Costa Rica at Panama, and Mexico hosting Jamaica.

In CONCACAF World Cup qualifying history, however, the Hex is a relatively recent innovation. The first Hex-like tournament was not really a Hex but a “Penta,” a five-team tournament played for the 1990 Italy World Cup and it was eventful in several ways.

Perhaps the most incredible circumstance was who was not in that tournament – Mexico. Having been found to have played overage players in an age-group FIFA competition, El Tri was banned. Without Mexico in the grouping, the path to securing one of the two qualifying positions was suddenly easier for the five teams: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Trinidad & Tobago, and the United States.

While essentially the same as today’s Hex – a home and home round robin – the tournament was not organized in the same manner. Instead of playing a full round against all opponents before meeting teams for a second time, the 1989 Penta, for example, had Costa Rica and Guatemala complete their play on the first two match dates and Costa Rica played the first four dates, also completing its games against the U.S. Interestingly, Costa Rica had completed all its matches by the 10th of 18 total matches, while T&T still had five matches left and the USA four.

And Costa Rica set the bar for qualification with its five wins and one draw for eleven points. Its plus 4 goal difference was also an important marker as the rest of the group pushed for qualification. At the beginning of September with five matches left the group standings looked like this:

 

The“Penta”

Played

Won

Draw

Lost

Goals For

Goals Against

Points

Costa Rica

8

5

1

2

10

6

11

T&T

6

2

3

1

5

3

7

USA

4

2

1

1

4

3

5

Guatemala

4

1

0

3

3

5

2

El Salvador

2

0

1

3

2

7

1

Note: In 1989 wins were 2 points.

The two matches in September saw wins for the U.S. and T&T, further distancing both from Guatemala and El Salvador. The U.S. with its seven points looked in good position to qualify, with matches at Guatemala and home to El Salvador in October that could put it at 9 points, the same as T&T, with a match at T&T left, where a tie would be good enough to go through.

But, as fate would have it, the U.S. fought tight battles with the two bottom teams, finishing both as 0-0 draws. Consequently, they came into the final match with seven points. Suddenly the match at “The Office,” as T&T’s national stadium is nicknamed, turned into even more of a do-or-die match – win or go home, forget about Italy and, maybe, about hosting the 1994 FIFA World Cup!

Of course, many reading this column will remember Paul Caligiuri’s goal, a dipping half-volley from 30 yards that found the lower left corner of the net, and the 60+ minutes of hectic action that followed in a raucous stadium prepared to celebrate T&T’s first World Cup qualification. With no further scoring, when it was all over, the U.S., for the first time since 1950, had qualified for the FIFA World Cup.

Team

Played

Won

Draw

Lost

Goals For

Goals Against

Points

Costa Rica

8

5

1

2

10

6

11

USA

8

4

3

1

6

3

11

Trinidad and Tobago

8

3

3

2

7

5

9

Guatemala

6

1

1

4

4

7

3

El Salvador

6

0

2

4

2

8

2

New Mexican Wave Threatening To Sink USA

Written by on August 14, 2012 | 17 Comments »
Posted in Mexico, United States

Less than a generation ago there were few, if any, countries that feared being drawn against Mexico at a world tournament. Mexico may have been the traditional powerhouse of CONCACAF (the region covered by North and Central America and the Caribbean) but that made them about as threatening as a hit-man specializing in….for more click on the link to Forbes.com.

The First Match in the World Cup Cycle For The USA

Written by on June 8, 2012 | No Comments »
Posted in United States, World Cups

Since 1934 the U.S. Men’s National Team has engaged in a FIFA World Cup qualifying tournament every cycle except for 1938. With the first match on the road to Brazil 2014 on June 8 against Antigua & Barbuda, I am interested and want to share with you  the team’s history in opening qualifying play. Overall, a review of these matches shows the early days were difficult, but, since 1976, the U.S. has been undefeated in its first qualifying match.

The history of U.S. play breaks neatly into two eras which I define as the pre-NASL era and the modern era of soccer in the United States. The total record for first matches is four wins, seven ties, and 5 losses with 28 goals for and 32 goals against.  Since 1976, when I posit that the North American Soccer League had begun its impact on soccer, the record is three wins and five ties with 15 goals for and only 2 against.

Another interpretation of the change of fortune in qualification, however, could be from increased participation in qualifying throughout the CONCACAF region. For the first qualifying matches from 1934 to 1972, the U.S. either met Mexico or Canada. Since 1976 the opponents have been primarily Caribbean and Central American nations, teams less successful at making it to the World Cup.

The first U.S. qualifier in U.S. soccer history was arguably its most successful, a 4 – 2 victory over Mexico. The match was played on May 24, 1934 in Rome when Aldo ‘Buff’ Donelli’s four goals dispatched the southern neighbors. The U.S. met Mexico in its next five qualifying matches (1949, 1954, 1957, 1960, and 1965). The first three were played in Mexico City, all victories for El Tri. The two following matches took place in Los Angeles and the U.S. produced ties:

1)      v Mexico              5/24/34                Rome, Italy                          W 4 – 2                 Donelli(4)

2)      v Mexico              9/4/49                   Mexico City, Mexico       L 0 – 6                   

3)      v Mexico              1/10/54                Mexico City, Mexico       L 0 – 4

4)      v Mexico              4/7/57                   Mexico City, Mexico       L 0 – 6

5)      v Mexico              11/6/60                Los Angeles, CA                  T 3 – 3                  Bicek, Zerhusen, Fister

6)      v Mexico              3/7/65                   Los Angeles, CA                 T 2 – 2                  Shmotolocha, Bicek

Throughout this period Mexico was the qualifying nation to every FIFA World Cup and few teams participated. Beginning with two in 1934, by the time the 1966 FIFA World Cup qualification tournament rolled around, the number of teams attempting to qualify had risen to nine.

Beginning in 1968, the U.S. played four consecutive first qualifying matches against Canada (1968, 1972, 1976, and 1980), the first three in Canadian cities and the last one hosted by the U.S. The first two were losses while the last two were the ties that began the current undefeated run:

1)      v Canada              10/13/68              Toronto, ON                       L 2 – 4                    Roy, Stritzl

2)      v Canada              8/20/72                St. John’s, NB                    L 2 – 3                    Getzinger, Roy

3)      v Canada              9/24/76                Vancouver, BC                  T 1 – 1                     Bandov

4)      v Canada              10/25/80              Fort Lauderdale, FL       T 0 – 0

Teams attempting to qualify for the FIFA World Cup finally reached double figures with twelve teams competing for a place in the 1970 World Cup hosted by Mexico. The total number of teams entering the qualifying tournament stayed in the teens through the 1990 qualification tournament.

In 1984, with the noted more countries involved in qualifying play, the U.S. opened qualifying with a 0 – 0 tie away to Netherlands Antilles. The U.S. achieved the same result away in 1988 at Kingston, Jamaica. Of course this was an important result toward the eventual qualification for the Italy 1990 FIFA World Cup.

1)      v Neth. Antilles 9/29/84                Curacao, Neth. Antilles  T 0 – 0

2)      Jamaica               7/24/88                Kingston, Jamaica            T 0 – 0

Since that time opening matches have shown increasing success with three home wins and one away tie:

1)      Guatemala          11/3/96                Washington, D.C.             W 2 – 0                 Wynalda, McBride

2)      Guatemala          7/16/00               Mazatenango                    T 1 – 1                   Razov

3)      Grenada              6/13/04                Columbus, OH                   W 3 – 0                 Beasley (2), Vanney

4)      Barbados             6/15/08                Carson, CA                          W 8 – 0                Dempsey (2), Bradley, Ching (2), Donovan, Johnson, own goal

For the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France, for the first time, the number of teams competing exceeded 20, with 26 teams entered in the tournament. The 2014 Brazil World Cup the CONCACAF qualifying tournament began with ten teams playing a home-and-home series to move into a second round.

Nineteen teams were added to this stage, playing in six groups of four teams with the six group winners qualified for the third round. Here they were joined by a final six teams attempting to qualify from CONCACAF with teams placed into three groups of four teams each. Overall, 35 teams from the region will participate in World Cup qualifying for 2014.

As the U.S. begins its qualification process at the Third Round in a four-team group of Antigua and Barbuda, Guatemala, and Jamaica, it will need to finish among the top two teams in the group to advance to the traditional CONCACAF Hexagonal, the six-team finish to qualifying. The U.S. has a rich and successful history, particularly in recent years. For U.S. fans let’s hope the team continues this modern trend.

An added note: Congratulations to retired Los Angeles Times sportswriter Grahame L. Jones on being named the 2012 recipient of the National Soccer Hall of Fame’s Colin Jose Media award for career excellence in soccer communications. He joins an illustrious list of outstanding people who have covered soccer in the U.S. and internationally:

2004       Jerry Trecker                   Sportswriter                                       Hartford Courant

2006       Seamus Malin                   Broadcaster                                        ABC and others

2007       George Tiedemann        Photographer                                    Sports Illustrated and others

2008       Ike Kuhns                           Sportswriter                                       Newark Star-Ledger

2009       Alex Yannis                       Sportswriter                                       New York Times

2010       Paul Gardner                     Columnist and Broadcaster          Soccer America, ABC and more

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