Charting the Hex; or, Cupcakes and Corn Smut

PROLOGUE: Well, after one game, the entire premise of this blog entry is teetering.  I'm going to stick by my guns for the nonce, though, because I've got a big, big regression to the mean vibe about this group.  With perhaps one exception. Qualifying for the World Cup worldwide boils down to (1) always win at home; and (2) always get at least a point on the road.  My old pal Kyle used to do a very helpful chart which kept track of how well or poorly teams were doing.  If you got won at home, or tied on the road, you were awarded zero (or "par," if you want to look at it that way).  Losing on the road meant -1 points (you failed to achieve the point you were hoping for).  Tying at home loses you two points, and losing at home means -3.  Do not fail to win at home, in other words.  A win on the road meant +2 points, since you exceeded expectations.  (This is the only way to get positive points in this system, which is why most of the numbers you get in this system are negative.  Zero means things are going extremely well, and positive numbers are a dream scenario, usually reserved to Mexico and Spain.)

When a European team fails to complete these steps, their reward is usually two free years of sulking until the next big tournament.  When a CONCACAF team bungles this checklist, though, there are usually ways out of jail.  Don't tell our European friends, but while we're correct in insisting that our road games are among the toughest in the world, they are correct when they point out CONCACAF qualifying can be very, very forgiving. 

Basically, instead of just yelling at you not to panic, I'm going to quantify the proper anxiety level.  Here's the current standings, after Day One:

Costa Rica 0 Honduras 0 Jamaica 0 United States -1 Panama -2 Mexico -2 

So, Mexico is in trouble...yet Jamaica doesn't seem sufficiently rewarded, somehow.  What we need are other factors.

One theory of qualification is that you need to beat the group cupcake...since everyone else will, and if you don't, you fall behind.  In other words, the group cupcake cannot help, and can only hurt. 

Now, who is the cupcake of the group?  The other day on Major League Soccer Soccer, John Bolster said this group has no pushover.  Except...Panama beat us in the last Gold Cup and Jamaica beat us in the first round.  Maybe we're the cupcake. 

Uh oh.

Well, I'm going to take Mr. Doe's advice and not think bad thoughts.  And I really don't think we're going to be the group trampoline, mainly because I honestly don't think we're going to drop points at home except maybe/probably to Mexico.

Let's plug in Panama as the pastry for now, and readjust the standings.

Honduras 0 Jamaica 0 United States -1 Costa Rica -2 Mexico -2 

Still doesn't seem right.

Perhaps one further refinement might work, though.  Some groups have a team that pretty much beats the hell out of everyone and makes the winner a foregone conclusion.  Therefore, getting any points at all from that team, home or away, is cause for celebration.  Again - those are points no one else is getting.  While the cupcake devalues the road tie and road win, a first place team winning everywhere decreases the damage suffered from a home tie or loss.  What would have been a damaging -2 tie becomes a reasonably honorable +1.  A loss goes from a cripping -3 to a straight zero - because that's what everyone else is getting.

Before last night, the group bully was Mexico.  Regression to the mean tells me they still are.  Maybe it's Honduras, although let's see them beat someone on the road.  Let's keep Mexico as the anticupcake for the moment.

Anticupcake? Uncupcake?  Tortilla?  But tortillas are good.  We need a better term.

Googling "Mexico" and "inedible" leads to the Wikipedia entry for "corn smut," and perfect

With Panama as cupcake pro tem, and Mexico as corn smut, the race for second through fourth boils down to this:

Jamaica 1 Honduras 0 United States -1 Costa Rica -2

Which is a long way of saying that last night was a minor setback for the US, as far as the standings.  And unless Mexico really is going to tear through the Hex like we thought, it wasn't even that helpful for Jamaica - they could still easily botch qualification.

I hate to keep repeating myself, but until we lose or draw a game at home, we have very little to worry about.   

 (EDITED for math)