World Cup Qualifying

World Cup Qualifying slideshow

World Cup draw is without 10 of top 32 in new FIFA rankings

Italian players react to their elimination at the end of the World Cup qualifying play-off second leg soccer match between Italy and Sweden, at the Milan San Siro stadium, Italy, Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

World Cup draw is without 10 of top 32 in new FIFA rankings

United States' Christian Pulisic, right, is comforted by a member of the team staff after the U.S. lost to Trinidad and Tobago in their World Cup qualifying match, at Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Serbia v Wales - 2018 World Cup Qualifying European Zone - Group D

Football Soccer - Serbia v Wales - 2018 World Cup Qualifying European Zone - Group D - Rajko Mitic Stadium, Belgrade, Serbia - June 11, 2017 Serbia’s Branislav Ivanovic Action Images via Reuters / Peter Cziborra

Soccer Football - Peru v New Zealand - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - Peru v New Zealand - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs- National Stadium, Lima, Peru - November 15, 2017. Peru's coach Ricardo Gareca looks on. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

Buffon thanks Rakitic for World Cup offer

FILE - In this file photo taken on Nov. 13, 2017, Italy's goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, left, and Federico Bernardeschi react to their team's elimination in the World Cup qualifying play-off second leg soccer match between Italy and Sweden, at the Milan San Siro stadium, Italy. Italian football federation president Carlo Tavecchio resigned on Monday, a week after the Azzurri failed to qualify for the World Cup. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

FILE - In this file photo taken on Nov. 13, 2017, Italy's goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, left, and Federico Bernardeschi react to their team's elimination in the World Cup qualifying play-off second leg soccer match between Italy and Sweden, at the Milan San Siro stadium, Italy. Italian football federation president Carlo Tavecchio resigned on Monday, a week after the Azzurri failed to qualify for the World Cup. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

Italian Football Federation (FIGC) President Carlo Tavecchio looks on during a press conference after he resigned as Italy's World Cup qualifying fiasco saw the four-time champions miss the finals for the first time in 60 years, on November 20, 2017

Italian Football Federation (FIGC) President Carlo Tavecchio looks on during a press conference after he resigned as Italy's World Cup qualifying fiasco saw the four-time champions miss the finals for the first time in 60 years, on November 20, 2017

Italian Football Federation (FIGC) President Carlo Tavecchio looks on during a press conference after he resigned as Italy's World Cup qualifying fiasco saw the four-time champions miss the finals for the first time in 60 years, on November 20, 2017

Italian Football Federation (FIGC) President Carlo Tavecchio looks on during a press conference after he resigned as Italy's World Cup qualifying fiasco saw the four-time champions miss the finals for the first time in 60 years, on November 20, 2017 (AFP Photo/Alberto PIZZOLI)

Middlesbrough condemn racist attacks on Cyrus Christie as police in Ireland launch investigation

Middlesbrough have condemned the racist attacks launched on defender Cyrus Christie in the aftermath of the Republic of Ireland’s World Cup play-off defeat to Denmark, as police in Ireland launch an investigation. Christie decided to speak publicly about the vile abuse he received on social media this week and has been backed by his club in his desire to highlight the issue, particularly as it was not the first time he has been racially abused. Police in Ireland have been given the details of those who abused the full-back on Twitter and Boro believe the 25-year-old should be praised for having the courage to speak about the attacks, FA Ireland and the charity Show Racism the Red Card (SRTRC) issued a joint statement, condemning the abuse and referencing a tweet which they claim “urged him to go to Jamaica and boasted about wanting to lynch him”. “I’d like to say I am extremely proud to represent my country, the Republic of Ireland, and I give everything I can each time I put on the green shirt,” Christie said in his statement. “I genuinely believe our fans are some of the best in the world. “However, there have been a number of racist comments which have been brought to my attention during the World Cup qualifying campaign over the last couple of months and, most recently, last week. Football's British and Irish Lions “These comments are not representative of our fans or our sport. We were all deeply upset to not reach the World Cup finals and are hurting just as much as everyone else. It is deeply saddening that racism is still part of the game we all enjoy and love. I strongly believe we need to stand up against these individuals who do not belong in football or any other sport.” That was followed by a statement from Middlesbrough on Tuesday, something manager Garry Monk urged them to do, which praised Christie for standing up to his abusers. “Middlesbrough Football Club condemns the disgusting abuse aimed at Cyrus Christie following the Republic of Ireland’s defeat to Denmark in Dublin last week,” the statement said. “Our player has been subjected to racial abuse and threats via social media, the type of which there is no place for in today’s society. “MFC takes a strong stance against this type of behaviour and believes Cyrus deserves great credit for speaking out. “We hope that the authorities involved in the investigation will find the culprits, bring them to justice, and send out a clear message that this type of behaviour is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated. As a club, we are offering Cyrus our full support.”

Italian Football Federation (FIGC) President Carlo Tavecchio resigned as Italy's World Cup qualifying fiasco saw the four-time champions miss the finals for the first time in 60 years

Italy's World Cup fallout deepens as Tavecchio resigns

FILE - In this Monday, Nov. 13, 2017 file photo, Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is comforted by Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura, right, at the end of the World Cup qualifying play-off second leg soccer match between Italy and Sweden, at the Milan San Siro stadium, Italy. Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura has been fired Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017 following the Azzurri's failure to qualify for the World Cup. Ventura leaves in disgrace, widely criticized for his tactical decisions that left Italy out of football's biggest competition for the first time in six decades. A football federation statement says Ventura is "no longer coach of the national team." (AP Photo/Luca Bruno, File)

Italian Football Federation (FIGC) President Carlo Tavecchio resigned as Italy's World Cup qualifying fiasco saw the four-time champions miss the finals for the first time in 60 years

Italian Football Federation (FIGC) President Carlo Tavecchio resigned as Italy's World Cup qualifying fiasco saw the four-time champions miss the finals for the first time in 60 years

Italian Football Federation (FIGC) President Carlo Tavecchio resigned as Italy's World Cup qualifying fiasco saw the four-time champions miss the finals for the first time in 60 years (AFP Photo/Alberto PIZZOLI)

FILE - In this Monday, Nov. 13, 2017 file photo, Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is comforted by Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura, right, at the end of the World Cup qualifying play-off second leg soccer match between Italy and Sweden, at the Milan San Siro stadium, Italy. Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura has been fired Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017 following the Azzurri's failure to qualify for the World Cup. Ventura leaves in disgrace, widely criticized for his tactical decisions that left Italy out of football's biggest competition for the first time in six decades. A football federation statement says Ventura is "no longer coach of the national team." (AP Photo/Luca Bruno, File)

FILE - In this Monday, Nov. 13, 2017 file photo, Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is comforted by Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura, right, at the end of the World Cup qualifying play-off second leg soccer match between Italy and Sweden, at the Milan San Siro stadium, Italy. Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura has been fired Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017 following the Azzurri's failure to qualify for the World Cup. Ventura leaves in disgrace, widely criticized for his tactical decisions that left Italy out of football's biggest competition for the first time in six decades. A football federation statement says Ventura is "no longer coach of the national team." (AP Photo/Luca Bruno, File)

Elias Syrja of Finland performs during the men's snowboard freestyle World Cup qualifying session in Rho, near Milan, Italy, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

FIFA leaves playoff controversy referee off World Cup list

Referee Ovidiu Alin Hategan speaks to Switzerland's Granit Xhaka during the World Cup qualifying play-off first leg soccer match between Northern Ireland and Switzerland at Windsor Park in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Thursday Nov. 9, 2017. (Brian Lawless/PA via AP)

Referee Ovidiu Alin Hategan speaks to Switzerland's Granit Xhaka during the World Cup qualifying play-off first leg soccer match between Northern Ireland and Switzerland at Windsor Park in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Thursday Nov. 9, 2017. (Brian Lawless/PA via AP)

2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs - Lima, Peru - November 17, 2017 A banner in the colors of the Peruvian flag and a sign reading "I love you Peru" hangs outside a house after Peru qualified for the World Cup. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs - Lima, Peru - November 17, 2017 A banner in the colors of the Peruvian flag and a sign reading "I love you Peru" hangs outside a house after Peru qualified for the World Cup. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs - Lima, Peru - November 17, 2017 Peru's soccer coach Ricardo Gareca, Peruvian Prime Minister Mercedes Araoz, Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, and the soccer team meet after Peru qualified for the 2018 World Cup. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs - Lima, Peru - November 17, 2017 Peruvian Prime Minister Mercedes Araoz, Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, and Defense Minister Jorge Nieto meet with the soccer players after they qualified for the 2018 World Cup. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs - Lima, Peru - November 17, 2017 People observe the arrival of Peru's soccer team to meet Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski after they qualified for the 2018 World Cup. REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo

2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs - Lima, Peru - November 17, 2017 People observe the arrival of Peru's soccer team to meet Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski after Peru qualified for the 2018 World Cup. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs - Lima, Peru - November 17, 2017 People observe the arrival of Peru's soccer team to meet Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski after they qualified for the 2018 World Cup. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs - Lima, Peru - November 17, 2017 Peru's soccer coach Ricardo Gareca and the players leave the Government Palace after a meeting with Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo

2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs - Lima, Peru - November 17, 2017 Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski meets with Peru's soccer team after they qualified for the 2018 World Cup. REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo

2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs - Lima, Peru - November 17, 2017 Peru's soccer coach Ricardo Gareca, Peruvian Prime Minister Mercedes Araoz, and Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski meet after Peru qualified for the 2018 World Cup. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs - Lima, Peru - November 17, 2017 Peru's soccer coach Ricardo Gareca, Peruvian Prime Minister Mercedes Araoz, and Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski meet after Peru qualified for the 2018 World Cup. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs - Lima, Peru - November 17, 2017 Peru's goalkeepers Carlos Caceda and Pedro Gallese arrive at the Government Palace to meet Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski after they qualified for the 2018 World Cup. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

How CONCACAF League of Nations Alters Competitive Landscape for USA, Region

Global soccer is getting a lot less friendly.

Europe, the source of most of the sport’s financial and competitive innovations, also is the birthplace of this unfriendly trend. The pursuit of more product, competition and revenue—the same impulse that led to the creation of the Confederations Cup, the International Champions Cup, the Carabao Cup and a 48-team World Cup—is at the root.

Whether the motivation is competitive or financial, the rush to maximize is real. In that environment, the international friendly has become a relic. Put the lucrative club game on pause and risk players’ health and fitness on matches that don’t matter? That’s not an easy product to sell to anyone—club teams, federations, networks, players or fans.

UEFA recognized this and devised its Nations League, a complex competition that will replace most friendlies with competitive games across a two-year cycle. It kicks off after next year’s World Cup. The concept, which UEFA has claimed will lead to “the rejuvenation of national team football," will see the confederation’s 55 members divided into four “leagues” based on ranking. From there, teams will play home and away inside intra-league groups during FIFA windows. Group winners in leagues B, C and D will be promoted. Group winners in the top tier will play off for the title. Relegation and additional tickets to the the 2020 European Championship are supposed to raise the stakes.

Regardless of whether anything is rejuvenated, there’s a ripple effect. European teams now have limited friendly opportunities—which was the idea—but that means the rest of the world does as well. Exhibitions against talented or high-profile UEFA sides, the sort in which coaches form other continents might find value, now will be harder to schedule.

Former U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann certainly felt those games were worth something. During his tenure, he took his players to France, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany and elsewhere in order to expose them to something different. It’s far from a World Cup, but it’s still a new and potentially rewarding experience for many.

The devaluation of friendlies and UEFA’s Nations League commitment (not to mention the marathon South American qualifying process that occupies CONMEBOL members for most of each World Cup cycle) has prompted CONCACAF to act in kind. The North and Central American and Caribbean governing body on Thursday announced the creation of its own League of Nations, which also will kick off with a preliminary, seeding competition next fall.

CONCACAF’s 41 members eventually will be divided into three tiers and although the final structure won’t be unveiled until early next year, it’ll likely be similar to UEFA’s: home-and-away games within a group, promotion and relegation between leagues A, B and C (or whatever they’re called) and a playoff to determine the champion. The CONCACAF League of Nations will replace Central American and Caribbean qualifying for the Gold Cup, which is expected to remain on a biennial schedule. There will be prize money and a trophy, and games will be considered official, meaning participation will cap tie a player. CONCACAF also said it plans to use LoN results to seed future World Cup qualifying competitions.

The benefit for the vast majority of CONCACAF countries is obvious, and that's important. After all, the confederation's constituency consists of more than just the USA, Mexico and a couple Central American powers.

“The League of Nations will allow for CONCACAF member associations to create, cultivate and capitalize on a truly comprehensive national team development program through regular competition. Rather than many teams playing on a sporadic basis—maybe only competing in two matches during a World Cup qualifying cycle and a handful of games in a regional tournament every two years—they will play regularly,” CONCACAF said. “For many smaller member associations, the League of Nations promises to offer needed opportunity among those that historically have lacked the tools and structure to develop at the national team level.”

More games, more development, more revenue: it makes sense for most members. But does it make sense for the USA, which is facing its own reckoning following last month’s failure to qualify for the World Cup? How does the League of Nations, and the extra games against regional opposition required, fit the U.S. national team’s needs?

First, some data. From the beginning of 2014 until now, which includes a World Cup cycle’s worth of qualifiers and two Gold Cups, the USA has played 73 senior international matches. That total includes 34 friendlies (10 against CONCACAF teams) and 40 games overall against CONCACAF opponents. The number of games against regional foes likely will rise thanks to the LoN.

“While the opportunities for friendlies within the FIFA international match calendar will be limited, there will still be space for these types of encounters,” CONCACAF said.

So some of those 34 friendlies (like the ones during FIFA windows) will become LoN games and some will remain free, although the options on those unscheduled dates will dwindle thanks to the UEFA tournament and what CONCACAF called, “the general movement in the world of international football away from low-stakes friendly matches.”

Those stakes are in the eye of the beholder, however. The benefit to most of CONCACAF is obvious. But for the USA, it’s unclear whether another game against Costa Rica or Cuba and the pursuit of this new regional title will be more productive than a game in Paris, London or Amsterdam. Different stakes and environments energize different players. Only time and a few LoN cycles will tell.

The best-case scenario for U.S. Soccer likely can occur only over the long-term. If the League of Nations really does provide the sort of competition that helps second-tier CONCACAF countries improve (like Panama has, for example), then the USA will find more difficult games closer to home. That’s a good thing at all age levels, and that sort of environment is why UEFA is content to close (almost) its doors. But that’s a ways away here, which makes the LoN feel like a bit of a risk in the short term.

It’ll be up to CONCACAF to ensure a variety of opponents (it will factor the rate of repeat meetings into its format), sensible scheduling and the right incentives are in place to make the LoN worthwhile in the region’s biggest markets. And it’ll be up to U.S. Soccer to figure out how to make the LoN work in its interest, whether it’s to give younger, less-proven internationals meaningful games or to return its competitive focus to its own backyard following last month’s disaster.

2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs - Lima, Peru - November 17, 2017 Peru's soccer coach Ricardo Gareca, Peruvian Prime Minister Mercedes Araoz, Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, and player Alberto Rodriguez meet after the team qualified for the 2018 World Cup. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs - Lima, Peru - November 17, 2017 Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski meets with Peru's soccer team after they qualified for the 2018 World Cup. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs - Lima, Peru - November 17, 2017 Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski meets with Peru's soccer team after they qualified for the 2018 World Cup. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs - Lima, Peru - November 17, 2017 Peru's soccer coach Ricardo Gareca and player Alberto Rodriguez arrive at the Government Palace to meet Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski after they qualified for the 2018 World Cup. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs - Lima, Peru - November 17, 2017 Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski meets with Peru's soccer team after they qualified for the 2018 World Cup. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

Canada to tipoff World Cup qualifying with mixed group of veteran, young players

Altidore suspension for 1st leg of conference final upheld

United States' Jozy Altidore celebrates in front of fans after scoring a goal against Panama during the first half of a World Cup qualifying soccer match, Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Peru v New Zealand - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - Peru v New Zealand - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs - Lima, Peru - November 16, 2017 People rest at a park during a holiday for public workers and all schools, after Peru qualified for World Cup. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

Peru v New Zealand - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - Peru v New Zealand - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs - Lima, Peru - November 16, 2017 A man reads a newspaper during a holiday for public workers and all schools, after Peru qualified for World Cup. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

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