Friday, June 04, 2010

Training Geography Greatly Handicaps the United States' World Cup Team

The 2010 World Cup is about to begin and much of humanity is excited about watching their national soccer (football) team try to become world champions.

Every four years there are news stories about how "this is America's year" and "this year the United States could go all the way." Sadly though, America's choice in picking a place to train has already severely handicapped America's attempt to win the World Cup.

Most of 2010 World Cup games will be played at a high altitude affair. Six of the ten stadiums are above 4,000 feet (~1,200 metres). The stadiums and their altitudes are
  • Johannesburg's Soccer City and Ellis Park Stadium at 5,751 feet (1,753 metres).
  • Durban's Moses Mabhida Stadium at about sea level
  • Cape Town's Cape Town Stadium at about sea level
  • Pretoria's Loftus Versfeld Stadium at 4,170 feet (1,271 metres)
  • Port Elizabeth's Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium at about sea level
  • Bloemfontein's Free State Stadium at 4,577 feet (1,395 metres)
  • Polokwane's (Pietersburg) Peter Mokaba Stadium at 4,076 feet (1,242 metres)
  • Rustenburg's Royal Bafokeng Stadium at 4,921 feet (1,500 metres)
  • Mbombela's (Nelspruit) Mbombela Stadium at 2,800 feet (853 metres)
To prepare for high altitude games many teams are practicing at similar altitudes to adjust players to the thinner air. Algeria is practicing in mountainous Switzerland at about 4,900 feet (1,500 metres), France is training in their Alps, and so is Italy. Even the long shot "Democratic People's Republic of Korea" (North Korea) is training in the highlands of Zimbabwe.

The United States will play all three of the first round games at high altitude. America's opponents have done their early, pre-South Africa training in mountainous Austria (the English team), Switzerland (Algeria's team), and the Alpine region of Tyrol, Italy (Slovenia's team). So where does the United States train? Perhaps at Denver, Colorado where the altitude 5,280 feet (1,610 metres)? No. Instead the United States team trained in New Jersey at about 215 feet above sea level (65 metres). The United States has a vast range of geographical landscapes and has the facilities to train at higher altitudes than the World Cup venues. America's team could have thought that the air was thicker in South Africa than in Denver and thus played at a higher level. Instead they will be thinking "We're not in New Jersey anymore."

The United States probably is not going to win anyways, no matter where the team trains. Soccer is just not that popular of a sport in the United States and the pickings are slim for good American players. Only two-thirds of Americans knew the World Cup was a soccer event and only eight percent were following news stories about the World Cup closely. Do not expect these stats to change much in four years.

3 comments: said...

Thanks for the analysis! I reposted it over on - I love this kind of data.

SRF said...

Great post. Begs the question, what the hell are we doing in New Jersey?

Catholicgauze said...

Thanks Cassler and SRF,
I guess we are preparing to lose in New Jersey.