How good is the U.S national soccer team? Is their defeat of Spain an outrageous freak? Or is it really quite routine?
Since the 2002 World Cup, the London-based statisticians of Decision Technology have been modeling domestic and international soccer competitions to predict outcomes and assess team strength. Their work has proven consistently better than the bookmakers’ odds. And their conclusion? The U.S. is really pretty good.
The U.S. national side ranks 14th in the world, ahead of, say, Portugal, a team that’s able to field the world’s most expensive soccer star, Cristiano Ronaldo. The U.S. is 40% as good as the best national team, Brazil, which they face Sunday in the Confederations Cup final. However France, which reached the last World Cup final in 2006, is only 45% the standard of Brazil.
The result against Spain seemed stunning, but actually wasn’t all that surprising. There was a 25.6% chance that the Americans would go through. And victory in the final, while unlikely, is very far from impossible. There is a 21.3% chance the Yanks will beat Brazil. So raise your eyebrows, but don’t fall off your chair if it happens.
Decision Technology also prepares the official FIFA Confederations Cup player ranking, again using computer modelling. Midfielder Clint Dempsey (pictured) turns out to be a world-class star, only narrowly edged into third place by world superstars David Villa of Spain and Brazil’s Kaka.
Why has the U.S. begun to reach this level? Two reasons—population and GDP. National soccer performance is related to both. And the U.S. is now playing at roughly the standard to expect from a country of its size and wealth. If it adds more interest in soccer into the mix, world domination beckons.