The U.S. will need lots of help to earn a top seed in FIFA's 2014 World Cup seeding. (Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images)
Critics will continue to question the validity and fairness of FIFA's monthly national team ranking. But its importance isn't up for debate.
Shortly after it decided to put off a decision on whether to shift the 2022 World Cup to the Qatari "winter," FIFA announced Friday that the top seeds for the eight first-round groups in the 2014 tournament will be chosen based on October's ranking. Brazil, as host, plus the next seven highest-rated qualifiers will be placed in the prime pot for the Dec. 6 draw in Mata de São João. There doesn't seem to be much of a chance that the U.S., currently ranked 13th, will make the cut.
That all-important ranking will be released Oct. 17. FIFA opted to use the October standings, rather than November's, to avoid giving an advantage to those teams that will secure additional points from World Cup qualifying playoff rounds (FIFA occasionally does something sensible).
As of now, the countries in pole position are reigning world champion Spain, as well as Argentina, Germany, Italy, Colombia, Belgium and Uruguay. From that list, only Argentina and Italy have confirmed their spots in Brazil, although Colombia, Germany, Spain and Belgium are in good shape. Seventh-ranked Uruguay is battling with Ecuador for the final automatic berth from South America and may have to negotiate a playoff with Jordan for a place at the World Cup.
If La Celeste falter, No. 9 Netherlands is next in line (Brazil is eighth).
Thanks to a run of 13 wins in 14 games, the U.S. has surged from a 2013 low of 33rd to 13th. But with its only October games against low-ranked opposition (No. 78 Jamaica and No. 35 Panama) the necessary points likely aren't there.
ESPN stats guru Paul Carr tweeted out this Reddit post from a user who claimed to have poured through all the possible permutations. He concluded there was a path to a World Cup seed for the U.S., but it required the Americans to win both upcoming qualifiers plus an enormous amount of good fortune in both Europe and South America. We'll let you double check his math if you're so inclined.
This will be the second straight World Cup at which FIFA seeds the groups based on the preceding October ranking. Prior to 2010 it used a more complicated formula that factored in performance at previous World Cup tournaments, a system that made it even more difficult for the U.S. to snatch a seed. In October 2009, the Americans were 13th. They were the third highest-ranked team to miss out on a seed but got lucky at the subsequent draw by being paired with an overrated England squad. In a couple of weeks, coach Jurgen Klinsmann will have a list of the potential favorites that await his team in Brazil.
World Cup seeding and generally avoiding the big Qatar question weren't the only things discussed at Friday's FIFA Executive Committee meeting, which included U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati. The governing body agreed to allow for "cooling breaks" in the 30th and 75th minutes of 2022 World Cup matches if the temperature exceeds 89 degrees. The average high in Doha is at least 90 from mid-April through October. The move isn't unprecedented as FIFA permitted breaks during some day games at the 1994 World Cup in the U.S.
Regarding the controversy over when to hold the Qatar World Cup, FIFA announced that a working group chaired by Asian Football Confederation president Salman Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain will consult various FIFA stakeholders, media rights holders and sponsors on a potential shift to the winter.
In a statement, FIFA said, "The executive outlined that the tournament would be played in nine years’ time and that therefore the consultation process would not be rushed but would be given the necessary time to consider all of the elements relevant for a decision. Consequently, no decision will be taken before the upcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil."
STRAUS: FIFA to form task force to study possible winter 2022 Qatar World Cup