FIFA's September world rankings were released this morning, and we found out that U.S. Soccer, after being ranked 19th just last month, jumped six more spots to 13th in the world. The Americans also were able to hold onto the top spot in CONCACAF. Mexico, second in the federation, fell one spot, and are now ranked 21st in the world.
This is clearly splendiferous news. And before the ASIC-afflicted among us start prattling that the FIFA world rankings don't matter, hush up a little bit. The FIFA rankings don't matter in the way that, say, BCS rankings matter. But these rankings, like all rankings, are important because they gauge how well a team has recently performed, and compare them to other teams in their sport. After clinching a trip to the 2014 Brazil World Cup with a win over Mexico on Tuesday night, the USMNT have now won 13 out of their last 14. These boys have been gathering steam all year now, which is why they keep rising in FIFA's rankings, and they're in better form than just about any other team in the world.
The United States now find themselves in what's more or less the second tier of teams in the world, teams that you suspect could beat anyone on their day, but that no one is expecting to really challenge for the World Cup next year. Portugal and Greece occupy the 11th and 12th spots just above the USMNT, while Switzerland and Russia sit behind. Also of note: the United States are now ranked above England. America's daddies-cum-little-brothers fell three spots to 17th. It's their lowest ranking in a dozen years.
Of course, there are things about FIFA's world rankings that kind of suck. For instance, Brazil is ranked eighth in the world, though after they spanked top-ranked Spain (and Italy and Mexico and Japan and Uruguay) in July's Confederations Cup, no one would argue that there are seven teams on the planet better than Brazil. But because Brazil is automatically hosting next year's World Cup, they're exempt from FIFA World Cup Qualifying, and thusly have fewer opportunities to accrue points.
But that's ok. Because there's another popular ranking system out there, called the World Football Elo Ratings. The Elo system was originally designed to rank chess players, but after a few tweaks, it works just fine for soccer as well. It also takes all of a nation's matches into account. Though Brazil hasn't been playing in World Cup Qualifiers, the squad has been tuning up through friendly matches. And according to the World Football Elo Ratings, which are updated every single day, Brazil is currently the second-best team in the world. Spain still sits first by a hair, while Germany, Argentina, and the Netherlands round out the top five.
To round out this tangent, we think that's a pretty accurate, solid top tier. And that's important, because according to the World Football Elo Ratings, the United States currently boast 15th-best team in the world. Which is to say that, by almost any standard, the USMNT is cooking right now. They currently sit just above Belgium, the last team to beat them before the Americans' 12-game win-streak, and every hipster's pick to win the World Cup. The United States are also virtually tied with France, who field some of the best players in the world and are historically great, but have also been somewhat meh lately. (The World Football Elo Ratings also place England sixth, which is a head-scratcher and might throw off the whole "Elo's got ranking down pat" narrative, but whatever.)
Come next summer, the United States will ultimately have to play a monthlong knockout tournament, and at the end, the last team standing will be able to claim the title of world's best team, regardless of rankings. But the most important and gratifying thing about these rankings is that they count America among the world's near-elite. That's been something of a pipe dream for this country's teams in the past, even when they were ranked fourth by FIFA in 2006, and again by Elo in 2009. It was a pipe dream just last summer, when FIFA had them ranked 36th. But now, for the moment, at least, the USMNT is here, and it feels like they belong.
Full rankings in the links below.
Photo Credit: Getty