Thursday, January 25, 2007

Is the USMNT schedule too soft?

This is a question running the halls of the internet rumor mills. Considering the question, I decided to take a look at the current schedule and compare it to the 1999 schedule and the 2003 schedule, considering those were the last two World Cup rebound years.

First the current 2007 USMNT schedule looks like this:

1/20 vs. Denmark
2/7 vs. Mexico
3/25 vs. Ecuador
3/28 vs. Guatemala
6/6 – 6/24: CONCACAF Gold Cup (minimum 3 matches)
6/26 – 7/15: CONMEBOL Copa America (minimum 3 matches)

So the USMNT has already started their 2007 campaign with a 3-1 victory over a Denmark squad made up of domestic based players, in Los Angeles. That is fine considering that the USMNT was made up of 95% domestic players as well, and the two that didn’t play in the USA, played in Denmark. Their next match is set for a second home match against their biggest rival, Mexico. This match is being played in Phoenix Arizona, so everyone should expect to see a very large and loud pro-Mexico crowd, giving the match an away game feel.

After the February match in Arizona, the team takes almost two months off and returns to action in Tampa, Florida for another home game against 2006 World Cup 2nd round participants, Ecuador. As this match is the first of two in the FIFA official match dates, one should expect to see both teams’ field full squads of first choice players. Three days after that match, the USMNT travels to Dallas, Texas for their fourth consecutive home match, this time against Guatemala. This match is also on an official FIFA date, so the USMNT will be able to field its strongest side.

The month of April and May are currently clear of any USMNT matches, which isn’t to say that there aren’t any in the works, but right now, they ain’t got anything scheduled. Rumor has it that Ireland will be an opponent in late May, as they are scheduled to face Ecuador in NYC, but as there haven’t been any reports to confirm this, we will leave it off the schedule.

That leads us to the CONCACAF Gold Cup. The Gold Cup is played in the USA, so the USMNT will have their group stage matches (3 matches) all on home soil. Assuming that they make it to the final, which is held in Chicago, the USA would have played 10 matches in 2007, all at home. Worst case scenario has the USMNT knocked out of the tournament in the group stage, which would only give them the three matches; they still would have never played away from home.

Directly after the end of the Gold Cup, the USMNT will travel to Venezuela for the CONMEBOL Copa America. This will be the first time that the USMNT will step foot outside of the USA in 2007. They will be in a group with three other CONMEBOL nations (the draw is on February 14th) but assuming that they go out in the first round, they will have added three more matches to their schedule. Unless they go completely tits up (great British phrase btw) they should make it to the second round, so lets say they will have played 14 matches by the middle of July (assuming they make it to the Gold Cup final).

Based simply on the schedule up to July 15th, that is the USMNT schedule.

Here is the schedule that the USMNT had in 1999, the year after taking 32nd in the 1998 World Cup in France:

Feb 06 99 W 3-0 Germany Jacksonville, FL
Feb 21 99 W 2-1 Chile Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Mar 11 99 W 3-1 Guatemala Los Angeles, CA (USA'99)
Mar 13 99 L 1-2 Mexico San Diego, CA (USA '99)
Jun 13 99 W 1-0 Argentina Washington, DC
Jul 17 99 W 2-1 Derby County Denver, CO
Jul 24 99 W 2-1 New Zealand Guadalajara, Mex. (Conf. Cup)
Jul 28 99 L 0-1 Brazil Guadalajara, Mex. (Conf. Cup)
Jul 30 99 W 2-0 Germany Guadalajara, Mex. (Conf. Cup)
Aug 01 99 L 0-1 Mexico Mexico City, Mex. (Conf. Cup)
Aug 03 99 W 2-0 Saudi Arabia Guadalajara, Mex. (Conf. Cup)
Sep 08 99 D 1-1 Jamaica Kingston, Jamaica
Nov 17 99 L 0-1 Morocco Marrakesh, Morocco

So the USMNT actually started off one month later than they did this year. They started with six straight home matches, four of those matches having opponents that advanced to the 2nd round of the 1998 World Cup (Germany, Mexico, Argentina & Chile), two of them making the Quarter Finals (Germany & Argentina). One of their six home matches was against an English club team in their preseason training, so that should actually not even count (no offense to Derby County supporters).

The USMNT didn’t venture abroad until late July when they traveled to Mexico for the FIFA Confederations Cup, which they finished in third place. In the Confederations Cup, they faced four teams that had qualified for the 1998 World Cup, losing to Brazil and Mexico, beating Germany and Saudi Arabia. Considering that most national teams that have taken part in the Confederations Cup have sent squads that have been less than their first teams, these results can be double sided. The fact that the US was able to post two victories over Germany with a combined score of 5-0 does show that the US was making good strides in 1999.

Their last two matches of 1999 were also outside of the country, one in Jamaica and one in Morocco. These, in my opinion are two of the better matches that the USSF scheduled for the USMNT that year. Traveling to Kingston and having to play in front of 20,000 Jamaican supporters is such a different environment than playing at Crew Stadium. On that same note, traveling to Morocco was a great idea. Africa is one of the parts of the world that the USMNT hasn’t been able to get that much experience playing in. Considering that the 2010 World Cup is being held in South Africa, something tells me that two or three trips to the continent should be arranged before 2010. If the US wins the 2007 Gold Cup, they will take part in the 2009 Confederations Cup, which is held in South Africa, so they will get some exposure.

All in all, the 1999 schedule matches up better than the current 2007 schedule. The 1999 schedule had some better opponents scheduled outside of the Confederations Cup, namely Germany, Chile and Argentina. The schedule also had the team traveling to more locations outside of the USA. Based on this, I am hoping that the USSF does schedule one more match before the Gold Cup, hopefully against a potential Copa America opponent and one that did make it to the World Cup.

Now switching gears to the 2003 schedule:

Jan 18 03 W 4-0 Canada Ft. Lauderdale, FL, USA
Feb 08 03 L 0-1 Argentina Miami, FL, USA
Feb 12 03 W 2-1 Jamaica Kingston, Jamaica
Mar 29 03 W 2-0 Venezuela Seattle, WA, USA
May 8 03 D 0-0 Mexico Houston, TX, USA
May 26 03 W 2-0 Wales San Jose, CA, USA
Jun 08 03 W 2-1 New Zealand Richmond, VA, USA
Jun 19 03 L 1-2 Turkey St. Etienne, France (Conf. Cup)
Jun 21 03 L 0-1 Brazil Lyon, France (Conf. Cup)
Jun 23 03 D 0-0 Cameroon Lyon, France (Conf. Cup)
Jul 06 03 W 2-0 Paraguay Columbus, OH, USA
Jul 12 03 W 2-0 El Salvador Foxboro, MA, USA (GC ’03)
Jul 14 03 W 2-0 Martinique Foxboro, MA, USA (GC ’03)
Jul 19 03 W 5-0 Cuba Foxboro, MA, USA (GC ’03)
Jul 23 03 L 1-2 Brazil Foxboro, MA, USA (GC ’03)
Jul 26 03 W 3-2 Costa Rica Miami, FL, USA (GC ’03)

So in 2003, the year after their Quarter Final run in the 2002 World Cup, the USMNT played 16 matches. Four of those matches were played outside of the USA. Seven matches were in FIFA tournaments (Confederations Cup and Gold Cup). Seven of their opponents qualified for the 2002 World Cup (Brazil, Costa Rica, Paraguay, Turkey, Cameroon, Mexico, & Argentina) and four of them made it to the second round of the tournament (Brazil, Turkey, Mexico, & Paraguay). The list of opponents is one that is pretty balanced and did have a few heavy hitters in the group, namely Brazil & Argentina.

When comparing the 2003 schedule to the 2007 schedule, the pre-tournament schedule that looks the more challenging has to be the 2003 schedule. The trip to Jamaica is a tougher trip, just as I outlined for the 1999 schedule. The Argentina match in Miami could not have been in front of a pro USA crowd and the Houston draw against Mexico was far from a pro USA crowd. Granted the 2007 match against Mexico in Arizona will be just as “friendly,” so these two sort of cancel each other out in terms of schedule strength.

That still leaves the Argentina match and the trip to Jamaica. The 2007 schedule doesn’t really have anything like either of these two matches. The Tampa match against Ecuador might be able to create a less than pro USA atmosphere, but Argentina and Ecuador are not on the same level when it comes to player performance or skill. Seeing how the USSF has yet to really schedule an away match (other than the Copa America) for the 2007 schedule, I would have to say that the 2007 schedule is definitely softer than the 2003 schedule.

So, in comparison, the two most recent World Cup rebound years, 1999 & 2003, had tougher schedules than the current 2007 schedule for the USMNT. The 1999 schedule had tougher opponents scheduled for the first part of the year, and had more away matches scheduled. The 2003 schedule had 1 more away but still had better opponents scheduled, and in tougher venues. I have to say that unless the USA reaches the final of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which should guarantee a match up with Mexico in the final, the USSF should begin looking for tougher opponents for the USMNT to match up against.

Another avenue of choice for the USSF to strengthen the 2007 schedule is to schedule at least 1 or 2 more away matches, in addition to the Copa America matches. Even if they are away matches to play Panama in Panama City or play El Salvador in San Salvador, these types so of away matches would provide the USMNT with a different environment than playing at home. Players learn more playing away from home, in less than friendly conditions and it will help prepare the players for the Copa America and Gold Cup.

All USMNT 1999 & 2003 schedule information taken from



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