FIFA's world rankings are, almost without exception, meaningless. This is that exception. The rankings released today determine the top seeds at next summer's World Cup. That's a valuable reward: they get to avoid each other.
It was the longest of long shots, so it's no surprise the U.S. didn't sneak into the Top 7 (plus hosts Brazil, who automatically get a top seed). Despite wins over Jamaica and Panama, the USMNT remained steady at 13, getting hopscotched by Switzerland, England and Chile, while overtaking Portugal, Greece, and Croatia.
But being 13th isn't worth a damn thing: After the Top 8, the rest of the 32 teams will be allocated geographically. We won't see any CONCACAF foes in group play, but we will be placed with a top seed, a UEFA team, and one from either South America or Africa. Being 13th could still earn the U.S. a group of death with, say, the Netherlands and Chile.
Everyone is hoping to end up in Switzerland's group, which would have been Italy's if not for a 2-2 draw at home to Armenia.
The Top 8 still aren't necessarily set. Uruguay still needs to win a home-and-home playoff with Jordan to qualify for the World Cup. That seems likely, but if they crash out, the Dutch will take their spot in Pot 1.
For an alternate measure of who the best actual teams are, consider the World Football Elo Ratings, which use a different rubric and take into account friendlies. There we see Brazil, which didn't have to play any World Cup qualifiers, sitting in first.
The World Cup draw will take place on Dec. 6.