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Where the U.S. Team Stands among All-Time Dirtiest Teams

The idea for this blog came about when I started crunching disciplinary statistics in support of a comment I was posting on another blog.  I wanted to know where our then two straight red cards put us among all-time international tournament teams:  had either the Confederations Cup or the World Cup seen anything like this before?

The blog’s already become bloated with 37 posts considering a wide variety of U.S. numbers.  We have examined the disciplinary stats of every Confederations Cup and of every World Cup.  Having done so, we can finally answer the question that started it all:  How “dirty” is the 2009 U.S. Confederations Cup team?

If you base it on red cards received, the U.S. is one of the all-time dirtiest.

The dirtiest team is probably Cameroon (1998 World Cup):  3 matches, 3 straight reds, 6 yellows.  We’ve detailed them in another post.

Second place is more subjective.  The two competitors are both from the Confederations Cup:  U.S. (2009) and Egypt (1999).  The U.S. has 4 matches, 3 straight reds, 6 yellows.  Egypt had 3 matches, 2 straight reds, 2 yellow-accumulation reds, and 2 yellows.  If you think that straight reds are better indicia of dirtiness, then the U.S. wins.  But in terms of sheer number of reds, it is Egypt.  Not only four reds, but the only two Egyptian players who got yellow carded both got second yellows and ejected.  In other words, absolutely nothing went Egypt’s way.

Now, there are some who might claim that Argentina’s 1990 World Cup squad was the dirtiest team of all time.  And with an all-time leading 21 yellow cards and 3 red cards, you can see their thinking.  But there are a couple facts that at least place them behind the clear top three:

  1. They earned 3 red cards in 7 matches.  Egypt earned 4 in 3, Cameroon had 3 in 3.  And the U.S. has 3 in 4.
  2. Only two of their red cards were straight reds.  (What is incredible about this statistic is that they earned 21 yellow cards but only once got a yellow-accumulation red.)
  3. Their opponents were red carded more often than Argentina was.  (4-3)
  4. Their first red card came in the 103′ minute of the semi-final.  Up to that point, their opponents had lost a player in three of their first four matches.  And the first red cards came early in the matches:  31′, 48′, 61′.

I know that American soccer fans (and it appears some fans worldwide) are suspicious of the red cards that the U.S. has received in the Confederations Cup.  For those fans, I have attempted to examine how unlikely it is that this could happen.

  • I established that based on the frequency it has traditionally received any red cards, the U.S. had only a 0.3% chance of getting red cards in 3 of its first 4 matches.  (here)
  • I used the referee’s history of issuing red cards to conclude that there was between a 1.4% and a 1.8% chance that the three referees who issued the U.S. red cards would issue red cards (to either team) in those matches.
  • Using the same statistics, I concluded that based on the four referees the U.S. has had, there was a 9% chance that 3 red cards would be issued in the 4 matches.
  • And I established that every single red card issued against the U.S. has directly benefitted the region of the red-carding official.  (here)

After doing all of this, I feel confident that the U.S. has been unfairly turned into one of the statistically dirtiest teams in the history of international tournament soccer.  Which is why I am so impressed at the U.S. team.  They complained about the unfair treatment after the Italy match.  But when it became apparent that they were going to be given as tough a road to the Final as possible, they just bore it.  A team cannot control the officials appointed to referee its matches but they can choose not to let it phase them.  And to watch the U.S. team advance to the Final where other teams (Cameroon and Egypt) were stuck in the group stage is a clear sign that the U.S. is one of the great teams in the world.

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