Should CONCACAF use a different World Cup qualification format?
Full question submitted by Pat R.: “Imagine the 10 North and Central American nations split from the Caribbean, and used the exact same double round-robin format that CONMEBOL uses for World Cup qualifying. How much better, if it all, would it make those nations? Do you see this ever being a plausible option in the future?”
By and large, I don’t think it would really help the “big” CONCACAF nations all that much, and I am mostly referring to nation size with that adjective. And for that insight, I look to Europe, who has contributed the winner of the last four World Cups, as well as seven out of the last 10.
UEFA has a ton of tiny countries that play games in its competitions, which the larger and more established countries regularly trounce when it comes time to qualify for the World Cup. Gibraltar, San Marino, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, the Faroe Islands, Andorra; there’s a solid 20 or so countries at the bottom of the UEFA food chain that are incredibly tiny, and truth be told, are not even as good competition as several Caribbean countries. And yes, many of the bigger UEFA countries do enjoy playing the little guys quite a lot, at least when it comes to statistics.
Despite the fact that there’s regularly several teams that just get absolutely pasted in Europe, more so than…honestly almost every other region in the world, you don’t see many talking about how that decreases the level of bigger teams in Europe.
The fact is, International soccer isn’t played often enough, and the huge teams don’t play the tiny teams nearly often enough, for any of that to really matter. It doesn’t matter for the players or coaches nearly as much as honing their skill at the club level, anyway. The same applies to CONCACAF. How many times has the U.S. played an opponent from the Caribbean in the last year? The answer is six times, and three of those times were Jamaica. Most of the “bigger” countries already don’t play Caribbean nations all that much.
I approach the question this way, because the logical conclusion of “how much better would these countries get if they didn’t have to play against the Caribbean” is “the Caribbean is dragging down the level and potential of the North and Central American teams,” which I don’t think is true at all. The growth of professional leagues like MLS within CONCACAF, as well as some shrewd coaching hires, has certainly improved the level of many Caribbean teams over the last 10 years or so. But this isn’t a see-saw. Any potential split of the two would make, at best, a negligible difference.
That’s my opinion, which is clearly not infallible. What is far more clear, however, is that splitting the region isn’t plausible in any way. Without the Caribbean countries, the North and Central American region shrinks to 10. That would be tied for the smallest region by number of countries, and number of countries counts for a lot in FIFA. Less countries is less votes in things like FIFA elections, members of the FIFA council, and the like. All of that political FIFA stuff makes things like hosting the 2026 World Cup a reality. So, no. I don’t think there’s any world where the North and Central American teams would willingly try to split from the Caribbean.
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