If two summer finals and their most recent meeting in World Cup qualifying didn't confirm it, then the new FIFA ranking did: The U.S. men's national team has surpassed Mexico—at least for the time being.
For the first time since July 2015, the U.S. is higher than Mexico in FIFA's world ranking, rising to No. 12 and two spots ahead of El Tri following the November international window. Mexico had briefly been in the top 10 before dropping five spots to No. 14 after road defeats to the U.S. and Canada in qualifying. Canada, which is ahead of both Concacaf powers through eight of 14 games in the region's World Cup qualifying competition, has equaled its best positioning ever by rocketing to 40th overall, third-best in the confederation.
Beyond optics, it could wind up meaning little, especially considering how much things could change in the coming months. But it could also come into play for the World Cup draw—presuming automatic qualification, of course. For Russia 2018, FIFA changed its procedure for setting the groups. It previously had been that only the top seven teams in the ranking, plus the host nation, would go into the seeded Pot 1, while the other three pots were set by fitting teams based on their confederation. In '14, for instance, beyond the seeded pot, Pot 2 comprised African and South American teams, Pot 3 featured Asian and Concacaf entrants, and Pot 4 contained the remaining European sides.
In 2018, though, the pots were determined entirely based on the ranking, with the top seven teams and the host in the first pot and the remaining three eight-team pots set by ranking order. Should the current ranking hold and the U.S. and Mexico both qualify for Qatar '22, both would wind up in Pot 2. There is still an outside shot for them to sneak into the top pot, though. With Qatar at No. 51, it'll be the top seven teams that join the host, meaning the U.S., for instance, would need to vault five more spots to reach that upper echelon. Other factors are in play, though. The last two European champions, Italy (ranked sixth) and Portugal (eighth), have both fallen into the UEFA qualifying playoff round and could realistically miss out on the World Cup altogether. If that happens, the U.S. would only have to overtake three teams to crack the top pot. The FIFA ranking is determined by a convoluted formula, which was revised in August 2018.
Simply securing qualification is the chief target, especially after missing out in 2018, but if results keep piling up and external results go the U.S.'s way, you never know what the ramifications could be. It's not the first time the U.S. has been close to the top of the table since the World Cup expanded to 32 teams. The U.S. just missed out on the seeded pot for the '06 World Cup, falling short by one place, while Mexico did wind up in that top octet. Ahead of the '10 World Cup, the U.S. fell three places short.
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