The Group Stage of qualifying for the 2006 World Cup in Germany has begun.
The World Cup is the premier international soccer competition and it takes place every four years in the even numbered year opposite the Summer Olympics.
The USA belongs to the Confederation of North, Central and Caribbean Association Football ("CONCACAF"). Each continent, or continental region, is granted a certain number of slots for the World Cup competition by the Federacion Internacional de Football Association ("FIFA"). CONCACAF receives 3.5 slots, which means that the top three teams in our qualifying competition are automatically invited to Germany to play, and the fourth place team enters an additional qualifying round.
The chart of each continent's allotment can be seen at the this site.
So, CONCACAF held its own preliminaries leading up to the current two stages of Group competition. See that chart here. And the USA made it through easily!
There are now three Groups of four teams each. The USA is in Group 1 and must play home and away matches against El Salvador, Panama, and Jamaica. First match was away to Jamaica and we played to a 1-1 draw. Last Saturday we beat El Salvador 2-0 in a cantankerous match at Foxboro, Massachusetts. Tonight we play at Panama City. We will then play three more matches in this group stage (versus Jamaica and Panama at home; then away to El Salvador).
Matches and Results can be found here.
At the conclusion of this round in November 2004, the two nations atop each of the three groups will advance to a Final Round group of six teams that will play from February to October 2005. The top three finishers in that final group will advance directly to Germany. The fourth-place finisher will compete in a home-and-away playoff against the fifth-place finisher of the Asian Football Confederation, for one of the last berths into the World Cup.
The USA is currently ranked 10th in the world. Some say that the standing is artificially inflated in hopes of securing more interest from United States citizens; but, that is too cynical even for me! There are 205 national teams registered with FIFA, so 10th out of 205 is damn impressive!
American soccer players now play in some of the world's most competitive leagues, including England and Germany. Our own MLS (Major League Soccer) is in its ninth season and getting better all the time. See MLS information here.
All players earn their living playing for a Club in a League; but, they return to their home nation to participate in international matches like the World Cup. Most leagues release their players for these international assignments, some leagues even suspend play for a week or two to accommodate the process. MLS, of course, does not do anything to accommodate international play, because it is an American sports league. Why would an American business enterprise ever ask its staff to do something for the honor of its nation (unless it involved killing strangers) when there are profits to be made (or lost).
Our national team is made-up of American players from all over the world, and the roster for tonight's match in Panama City is:
Player, Team, (League)
Kasey Keller, Tottenham Hotspur (ENG)
Jonny Walker, MetroStars (MLS)
Carlos Bocanegra, Fulham FC (ENG)
Steve Cherundolo, Hannover 96 (GER)
Bobby Convey, Reading FC (ENG)
Cory Gibbs, Dallas Burn (MLS)
Frankie Hejduk, Columbus Crew (MLS)
Oguchi Onyewu, Standard de Liege (BEL)
Eddie Pope, MetroStars (MLS)
Greg Vanney, SC Bastia (FRA)
DaMarcus Beasley, PSV Eindhoven (NED)
Landon Donovan, San Jose Earthquakes (MLS)
Cobi Jones, Los Angeles Galaxy (MLS)
Eddie Lewis, Preston North End (ENG)
Clint Mathis, Hannover 96 (GER)
Claudio Reyna, Manchester City (ENG)
Kerry Zavagnin, Kansas City Wizards (ENG)
Conor Casey, FSV Mainz (GER)
Brian Ching, San Jose Earthquakes (MLS)
Brian McBride, Fulham FC (ENG)
England, Germany, Netherlands, and France produce some of the finest soccer and soccer players in the entire world (along with Brazil and Argentina, of course) and the presence of American players in those leagues speaks volumes about how good American soccer players are today.
How much do you know about American soccer players? That's what I thought.
Well, that roster of guys flew to Panama City yesterday to play at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez, tonight at 9 P.M. Eastern Time, and they are amazing athletes. You can watch the match live on Fox Sports World, or you can follow the MatchTracker at ussoccer.com