This is for soccer junkies.
I look at the current standings of the Hex -- Panama in first on 5; CR, Hnduras and USA tied for 2d on 4; Mexico in fifth (!) on 3; Jamaica in last on 2. Obviously USA is in good shape, after a couple dramatic games. But it's just a temporary snapshot, 3 of 10 games completed. It's not a fair analysis because each team's schedule is so different, some have had hard ones while other easy ones.
I wanted to mathematically account for how hard a schedule each team has had to date. When you apply some subjective metrix to each team's schedule, it turns out, we are in REALLY GREAT shape. Like, book your tickets to Rio good shape. And Mexico shouldn't be freaking. And you can easily explain why Panama is, right now, top of the table.
Here's my subjective part of the analysis. I assigned points -- from1 to 20 -- on how difficult it is to play each team in the Hex, both at your home (that is, how good is the other team on the road) and at their home (how good is a team at its home)? As an example, the hardest game in the Hex for anyone is a road game at the USA -- we're undefeated in 20-something WC home qualifiers. Mexico is real hard to play in Mexico too, but oddly, not quite as good at home as we are. So for any team, a road game at USA is 20 points of difficulty. Similarly, easiest game in the Hex is playing Panama at your home, that is, Panama on the road is the least competitive. So a home game against Panama is 1 point of difficulty. Etc. etc. for all 6 teams in the Hex, both road and away.
Then, I added up all these points on each team's schedule. Because a team doesn't play itself, the degree of difficulty of each team's schedule varies. I judge Mexico that hardest team overall to play (I think considering how they play at home and on the road, Mexico is tougher to play than USA), so Mexico ends up with the easiest overall schedule (because Mexico is not on Mexico's schedule). Etc.
Next, I added up how hard each game has been for each team to date, after 3 games. So you can see, based on my subjective valuations of how hard each team is to play at home or on the road, who's had the easiest schedule so far, and what's left for each team in terms of overall difficulty, relative to other team's schedules.
Here's a chart (!!!) totalling all of this. If you don't like my subjective points for how hard it is to play each team at home or on the road, copy this into Excel, you can reassign the points. Bold/underlined numbers are games already played. The way to read this is, each team's schedule is read horizontally, across the row -- so the first row, Mexico, shows it has played two home games (vs USA and Jamaica), and one road game (vs Honduras):
|DIFFICULTY OF PLAYING THESE TEAMS AT YOUR HOME||DIFFICULTY OF PLAYING THESE TEAMS AT THEIR HOME||TO DATE|
|Mexico||USA||Honduras||Costa Rica||Panama||Jamaica||Mexico||USA||Honduras||Costa Rica||Panama||Jamaica||Total||To Date||Pct To Date||Remaining|
The results exactly confirm sort of what you'd have expected, and particularly, why Panama is on top:
-- USA has, by far, played the toughest schedule to date -- two road games at Honduras and Mexico. And we have, by far, the easiest remaining schedule.
-- Panama has, by far, played the softest schedule to date -- the only road game was at Jamaica, home games against CR and Honduras.
-- Mexico has had, relatively speaking, almost as easy a schedule to date at Panama.
And that bodes real well for USA -- we've gotten past 39% of the toughness of our schedule (after only 30% of games completed). So our remaining schedule is BY FAR softer than any other team's in the Hex. Four points after two road games at Honduras and Mexico? Yes please thank you.
And it might explain why Panama is up in first place. It's been easy on them so far; but Panama has, by far, the most difficult schedule remaining. Enjoy your time at the top of the table, Panama; you'll need a parachute for where you're going the rest of the way.
And Mexico isn't really in big trouble. While they've played a really soft schedule to date, they have the second-easiest schedule remaining -- the only really tough game for them is at USA (probably guaranteed not to be a win for Mexico).