CONCACAF Teams Riding High In World Cup Play

The strong run for CONCACAF teams in this year’s World Cup could continue today with a win by the United States over Portugal. North America’s regional confederation sat in second place as of Friday’s games, behind only South America.

According to Yahoo! Sports, CONCACAF’s top team in terms of FIFA’s World Rankings is the United States at 13th (before the tournament). There is a drop off for the other World Cup teams – Mexico was 20th, Costa Rica 28th, and Honduras 33rd. As Yahoo! points out, only 32 teams take part in the quadrennial tourney, so by those rankings “it’s understandable that some would view CONCACAF teams as pushovers.”

But with Friday’s victory over Italy, Costa Rica managed to knock out England and advance to the Round of 16. Earlier in the week, Mexico tied favorite Brazil (who you might expect would also have home-field advantage alongside their #3 world ranking).

CONCACAF has been third-best in World Cup performance since 1998, but as MLS points out that’s mostly due to the strength of the U.S. and Mexico teams in the four tournaments prior to this year’s in Brazil: “The longtime rivals combined for 1.25 points per game from 1998 to 2010, while the five other CONCACAF entrants have managed just nine points in 15 games.”

Tony Manfred of Business Insider said that while “the region has long been more or less of a joke, even among American soccer fans,” its success this summer is no fluke (although he also, inexplicably, cites as evidence a spectacular goal by a player from Australia, not a CONCACAF country last I checked).

At USA Today‘s The Big Lead blog, Mike Cardillo even pointed to CONCACAF success beyond the players:

The best performance from CONCACAF might end up going to American referee Mark Geiger, who’s been lauded for performances in Colombia/Greece and Spain/Chile. Let’s not forget, CONCACAF officiating on the whole tends to make the NBA’s look good by comparison.

So how did the region get so good so fast?

Soccerly’s Robert Burns points to the effect Major League Soccer has had on CONCACAF teams generally:

It’s been said that a rising tide lifts all ships. And while it’s still very early days in the 2014 World Cup, it does not take a massive leap to see that one of the many reasons for CONCACAF’s success so far at the tournament is down to Major League Soccer and its regional impact.

The U.S. top flight has sent a total of 21 players to Brazil this summer, which puts it in the top 10 of all world leagues. And while some big names adorn that list, like the USA’s Clint Dempsey, Tim Cahill of Australia and Julio Cesar of Brazil, it’s the workmanlike core of teams like the U.S., Costa Rica and Honduras that have benefited most from the young American league.

What do you think? Has the tide turned for CONCACAF? Can the success continue into the next round of play and beyond?