The State of the Men's National Soccer Team: An ELO story / by Harrison Crow

by Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

Based on recent results, it’s not surprising that the US Men’s National Team has dropped in the FIFA World Rankings. There were a lot of reasons to expect it, and to act surprised is bit like thinking Sarah Chalke will ever find another sustainable leading role or for Fox to be patient in the ratings game (sorry on both accounts, Backstrom fans). Sure it’s a bit disappointing (back to the USMNT), and you want to see them continue to do well. But to be shocked about it, or to act as if it’s the downturn of the organization, is a bit melodramatic.

If you look at the last two years of US soccer through the eyes of ELO, it helps give us context for the "rise and fall" of the USMNT. Much of their ELO was fueled by an extremely strong finish to their World Cup qualifying, winning the 2013 Gold cup, a win against Ghana, and then a tie with Portugal in the World Cup. Altogether it saw them boost their point total from a measly 1730 in late March 2013 to peak at 1859 just before their loss to Germany in the World Cup group stage a year and change later.

Since being knocked out of the World Cup, the US has felt the frustration of five defeats in seven matches. Despite the eyesore on the field, the team has only lost six spots and 34 points according to ELO. This may not cool off the men and women armed with pitchforks and a general narrative about pandemonium in the USMNT, but it should ease our minds a little. And that drop has as much to do with other teams’ performances as it does with the US performance. Good runs from Croatia, Mexico, Belgium and Costa Rica over the past year have helped to push the US down the rankings.

For some variety in numbers, we also have the Soccer Power Index (SPI )—created by FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver—where you’ll spot the US ranked 22nd overall with 1.99 expected goals for and 0.96 expected goals against. These figures are extremely similar to the USMNT’s 2.00 expected goals for and 1.00 expected goals against during the World Cup, indicating that this year’s results are not some ominous cloud hanging over our boys, foreshadowing future ruin.

I would expect that with this pair of international matches against Denmark and Switzerland you'll start seeing more of the team that we saw just prior to the World Cup, and with a good Gold Cup performance, they'll be back in a very strong world position.