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Just How Hard Is It To Win On The Road In Concacaf World Cup Qualifiers?

Disappointment was pervasive among American soccer fans after their side fell 2-0 to Canada in Hamilton, Ontario, on Sunday.

There's a certain sense of privilege among more flighty fans, as they expect the USMNT to travel the continent and come back unscathed with three points in hand every time.

But Concacaf is a difficult region for visiting teams to win in — perhaps the most difficult in the world — and we have the stats to prove it.

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At one point, 10 of the 20 Concacaf third-round qualifying matches during this cycle resulted in draws. The draw rate has since subsided, but away sides are still struggling to win 20 percent of the time in 2022 Concacaf WCQ.

How does that compare to the rest of the world?

In their book Statistical Thinking in Sports, Jim Albert and Ruud H. Koning tracked the results of almost 9,000 international matches between 1993 and 2004. They found that 50.3 percent of matches ended in a home win, 25.1 percent ended in a win by the visiting team and 24.6 percent of matches ended in a draw.

This 50-25-25 rule roughly translates to domestic football too. In the Premier League, home teams win 46.2 percent of matches, away sides win 26.3 percent of the time and 27.5 percent of matches result in a draw.

As for Concacaf, here is how North America compares to other continents during World Cup qualifying, and how it measures up to the rates calculated by Albert and Konig.

Away Team Performance During World Cup Qualifying 

Continent WCQ Year Total Matches Home Win %

Draw %

Away Win % Away PPG
Concacaf 2022 40 45 35 20 0.95
Concacaf 2018 30 53.3 30 16.7 0.80
Concacaf 2014 30 53.3 33.3 13.3 0.73
Concacaf 2010 30 66.7 16.7 16.7 0.83
Concacaf 2010-2022 130 53.8 29.2 16.9 0.80
UEFA 2022 250 41.2 22 36.8 1.30
CONMEBOL 2022 49.3 25.3 25.3 25.3 1.01
Intl. Average 1993-2004 9,000 50.3 24.6 25.1 1.00

*Note: 2022 stats reflect matches played through January 31, 2022.*

Away wins are going to be more common in Europe when you have a team like Germany placed in a qualifying group with North Macedonia, Romania, Armenia, Iceland and Liechtenstein (the Germans won all five of their away matches by a scoreline of 15-1).

CONMEBOL has the most normal win percentage, with a 49.3-25.3-25.3 distribution for home wins, draws and away victories. 

In Concacaf though? Away games are the equivalent of a death sentence. Starting with the 2010 qualification cycle, visiting teams in World Cup qualifying are averaging a victory once every six matches and are picking up less than a point per game.

The 2010 and 2014 World Cup qualifying cycles were miserable for visiting teams in Concacaf; in 2010, home sides won two-thirds of matches, while in 2014 away sides picked up a win once every 7.5 matches.

Statistically, 2022 has been a better year for away sides, with the highest away win rate of the last four cycles as well as the highest draw percentage. Yet in Concacaf, visiting sides still average few points/game and have a lower win percentage than they do in UEFA or CONMEBOL.

So which nations were the most difficult away trips in Concacaf? Let's take a look.

Toughest Concacaf Nations to Win At (2010-2022)

Host Total Matches Home Win % Draw % Away Win % Away PPG
Canada 6 83.3 16.7 0 0.20
Mexico 19 63.2 31.6 5.3 0.50
Panama 15 40 53.3 6.7 0.70
USMNT 20 80 10 10 0.40
Costa Rica 20 70 20 10 0.50
El Salvador 10 30 50 20 1.10
Honduras 21 42.9 28.6 28.6 1.10
Trinidad & Tobago 10 40 20 40 1.40
Jamaica 9 11.1 44.4 44.4 1.80

This campaign represents the first time Canada has made it to the final round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying since 1998, and it has made its native land a fortress, winning five times and drawing once in six matches up north.

Mexico and the United States were both about as strong as expected at home, but one country with an unexpected level of home success was Panama. The Central American nation is ranked the sixth-highest among Concacaf nations in the current FIFA World Rankings, but it has lost just once at home in 15 matches over the last three qualifying cycles.

Costa Rica is also a staunch side at home, allowing opponents to earn points just 30 percent of the time. 

The most disappointing side has been Jamaica, a frequent top-60 side in the world rankings that allows nearly 1.5 points/game to visiting opponents. 

Concacaf might not have teams saturating the upper echelon of the FIFA rankings, but next time the USMNT travels to El Salvador and only gets a draw, remember that winning on the road in Concacaf World Cup qualifying is just about as hard as it gets.

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