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Commentary Jun 26, 2014

How youth soccer tournament ranking systems leave Dallas Cup behind

The Dr. Pepper Dallas Cup is a hard nut to rank,  by any standard other than pure gut feel, and is a good example of what’s wrong with trying to do so. Both the industry leading GotSoccer Rankings and our attempts here at Soccer Wire horribly undervalue what is easily the most competitive tournament in the country, and potentially the world.

That said, the reasons both systems leave this wonderful tournament behind differ greatly.

Our own rankings (see the formula here) undervalue the Dallas Cup as a direct result of our biggest strength; our belief that rankings points should be based on head-to-head team results alone. Awarding points for winning or tying against an opponent based on that opponent’s global ranking is how FIFA does it, and is our attempt to provide a fair shake for all teams and tournaments by awarding points for all wins and ties.

The difficulty in ranking the Dallas Cup for Soccer Wire is simply the lack of volume in historical results in our database for all those fantastic international teams. While we do have some results, these teams just don’t play enough here in the United States to gather enough points to fairly value them. When they come here and beat a highly ranked U.S. team, they do reap big rewards, but the annual Dallas Cup trek just isn’t enough.

The problem for the Dallas Cup on GotSoccer has some similarities in a lack of available data, but has a bigger issue at it’s core… the use of fixed “maximum points values” for tournament divisions and the way those division values are then averaged to produce a tournament’s rank.

For tournaments willing to pay in advance* to use their software, GotSoccer pre-assigns point values to divisions of play in a tournament based on the average rank of the best five teams in that division. No matter how good those teams may be, or how good the 20th best team in a division might be, the maximum points available for any division is 10,000, and most of the top 10 or more tournaments in the GotSoccer tournament ranking have several divisions worth 10,000 points. (*GotSoccer’s help files state they can’t pre-assign points to flights for tournaments that don’t use their software, but value those flight post-event)

To arrive at a tournament’s ranking  points value, GotSoccer simply averages the top flight in each under-12 (11v11) age group and up by the number of such age groups competing. For tournaments with age groups all at 10,000 points, they enjoy a 10,000 point tournament ranking. But this method seems unfair to a lot of tournament directors we’ve met over the years.

Why? Look at the current GotSoccer tournament rankings for boys. There are two tournaments ahead of the Dallas Cup, but neither one has any divisions of play above under-14.  That means they only need five highly ranked teams in three divisions to maximize the available 10,000 points average, and in this case both EDP events out paced the Dallas Cup with only three divisions used in the math. That’s 15 teams each, all under-14 or younger trumping an event where every one of their flight from under-13 to under-17 all have 10,000 total points.

The only exception to the 10,000 status in the Dallas Cup?   Only the most competitive youth club tournament flight in the world, the Under-19 Gordon Jago Super Group. A group that contained teams such as the U.S. Under-20 National Team, and was ultimately won by the youth side of Argentina’s storied River Plate.

This group had zero points – nada – in GotSoccer because not a single team participating used a tournament profile with any previous results in GotSoccer (despite the fact that several had played in the Dallas Cup previously – but that’s a blog topic for another day).

The result? GotSoccer’s “formula” skipped down to the “2nd tier” U19 flight, which “only” had 8,500 points available, despite also being chocked full of international teams with no previous profile. That comes to five (5) flights at 10,000 points and one (1) at 8500, or a total of 58,500 points divided six (6) flights for the GotSoccer tournament ranking value of 9,750.

It’s good enough to be third overall, but is an example of how many tournaments suffer in the rankings world due to math, not actual quality.

With under-18 and older teams rarely resembling their under-17 days due to high school graduations,  too many tournaments in GotSoccer’s method are penalized for staging flights in under-18 and under-19 age groups – ironically, where the kids are finally supposed to be playing to win.

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