DESPITE TRAGEDY, IT'S GAME DAY
BRENT LATHAM - Wednesday, October 14, 2009
It's easy and understandable to forget that today is a game day for the USMNT - one that would have been a celebration of a tough qualifying campaign which ended in success in Honduras over the weekend.

Of course the events early Tuesday morning cast a pall over any positive emotions as the realities of life remind us once again that sport is valuable for entertainment purposes only, and there are much more important things than a result on the soccer field.

The good news is that it looks like Charlie Davies will pull through this, even if his soccer playing future may be ruined. Taking into account Charlie's passion for the game, and while keeping our full attention on his recovery, and well-wishes for all those affected by the accident, we at Yanks Abroad think it is appropriate as well to turn our gaze back to the field.

The line-up

Many readers seem to have taken my suggestion in Monday's blog that the US trot out an alternative line-up as an invitation to throw the match. That couldn't be further from the point I intended to make. The contention is simply that the US must look out for its own interests first. To think any other team anywhere in the world would not do the same is naive. You can contend that we Americans are different, but that will be little consolation in June if Michael Bradley or Oguchi Onyewu sees an untimely red card and misses a World Cup match.

That said, there's no reason why an alternative team can't be just as competitive as the normal first string. Bob Bradley has, many times in the past, discovered usable lineup variations completely by chance, and this is another such opportunity.

The US also cannot afford to go to the World Cup with only thirteen or fourteen battle tested players. This is a high pressure but risk free chance to test some backups who need to be ready to fill in come next summer, and the Americans need to take advantage of that opportunity. Adding a half dozen first choice reserves to the lineup could even result in the game being more competitive, as a starting eleven with little to prove might be subject to a let down.

World Cup seeding and winning the group

There are some other implications to winning the match tonight. The first is that winning would assure the US first place in the Hexagonal for the second straight cycle, no small feat and one that - though a small detail - would help ensure bragging rights over Mexico for the next four years. One thing's for sure, though the US might not make a big deal of it, if Mexico does win the Hex for the first time in years you'll be hearing about it from Mexicans for a long time.

One other argument I have seen repeatedly in the past days is that winning the Hexagonal will somehow give the US a better case for a seed at the World Cup. That argument is based in a fundamental misunderstanding of how the seeding process has worked in the past.

For a long time, FIFA simply chose their favorite seven teams plus the host nation(s) as seeds. Then in 2006 it decided to clarify the process by using a weighted formula of World Cup finishes and FIFA ranking. Even in light of a #4 ranking and good showings in 1994 and 2002, the US still fell short. This time around is likely to be little different, except that with South Africa seeded instead of Germany, there is one less seeded position. And the US has fallen in the rankings and performed poorly in 2006.

So the US is unlikely to be seeded among the top seven no matter what happens tonight. Aside from those top seven spots, nothing else matters. Many fans seem to think there is some sort of ranking process that divides teams into four tiers and forms the groups from there, but in the past it has never worked that way. This is not the NCAA basketball tournament; either you're a top seed, or you're in the pot with the other 24 teams. So unless FIFA suddenly makes a drastic change to the way they form the groups, the chances this game will have any bearing at all on the Americans' group in South Africa are close to zero.