The United States Men’s National Team has had a brilliant 2013. It won its World Cup qualifying group. It won the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Its world ranking kept rising and rising.
But the great year just ended on a decidedly down beat. FIFA held the draw for the 2014 World Cup today, and the United States finds itself in Group G with Germany, Portugal, and Ghana. The latter have had a bad year, but they are America’s World Cup bogey team — Ghana eliminated the US from the 2010 and 2006 World Cups. The US is bringing a much stronger side this time, but it’s facing an extremely difficult group.
Germany brings world class firepower all over the pitch. Manuel Nauer is arguably the best goalkeeper in the world right now. Mesut Ozil is arguably the best playmaking midfielder in the world right now. Thomas Muller, Lukas Podolski, the Bender brothers, Marco Reus, Per Mertesacker (the Arsenal defender who sunk England at Wembley in their most recent friendly), Mat Hummels…this squad is quality from front to back. The only thing they might lack is an out-and-out striker, but with everyone else rotating around Ozil, they may not need one. At Arsenal he is proving that he can find anyone anywhere for an assist at any time.
Portugal is arguably weaker across the pitch than Germany, but they also bring probably the world’s best player this season — Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo. He proved in Portugal’s playoffs against Sweden that he can carry his team to victory all by himself. Portugal might be a one-man team, but when your one man is that man, you always have more than a chance of winning.
It’s not hard to see Germany winning this group with Portugal right behind them, leaving the Americans out in the Amazon heat. On the other hand, being an underdog isn’t a bad thing for a US used to playing second to Mexico in its region.
England fared slightly better. It drew Group D along with Uruguay, Costa Rica and Italy. Mercurial Uruguay won the World Cup on Brazilian soil decades ago, and brings the in-form striker Luis Suarez to lead the line. All he has done lately is score four spectacular goals for Liverpool versus Norwich in the Premiere League on Wednesday. Italy is a perennial world soccer power. Costa Rica managed to dismantle a tough US side on its home soil during the qualifying stages. England is capable of beating all of them if its best players are healthy and on their best games. Wayne Rooney, Jack Wilshere, Andros Townsend, Theo Walcott, Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard…they don’t lack energy, experience, youth, or quality.
These are tough draws, especially in light of how the rehearsal draws went. In the mock-up, the US drew a very survivable group with Uruguay, Nigeria and Croatia. England’s rehearsal would probably have seen it through to the knockouts: The Three Lions drew 2010 winners Spain, along with Ivory Coast and South Korea. Spain and England should have coasted through that group.
Compounding the US draw problem is its venue problem. Each of its game sites are very long plane rides away from its home base in Sao Paulo. The logistics alone will be a nightmare for the US Men.