If you think about it, it would have been boring, mundane, probably uneventful. It would have been straightforward, unexciting, deserving of a shrug of the shoulders and a “meh.” A consecutively kinder World Cup draw for the U.S. Men’s national team, this time perhaps in the “Group of life” with Switzerland, Ecuador and France, might have provided more room for comfort and confidence for American fans ahead of June, but may as well have offered less to truly capture the imagination of the neutral.
What the U.S. has gotten instead, if not the toughest group in Brazil 2014, is the most drama-filled pairing of them all. For a spectacle that comes just once every four years, Friday’s draw at the Costa do Sauípe Resort in Bahia provided three match-ups that are truly worth the wait.The leads for the journalists to latch onto couldn’t be any clearer: an opener that provides a third consecutive World Cup meeting with Ghana in a rivalry that has been entirely molded by fate, a match against Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo (a player who, on form, is currently the best in the world), and a finale that pits U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann up against Germany, the very nation with which he conquered the World and Europe, in 1990 and 1996 respectively.
As Alexi Lalas said on the American telecast of the draw, “the storylines write themselves.” For a network that has been criticized for a tendency to be overzealous in hyping up certain stories, even ESPN might have their work cut out for them in providing an adequate build-up to a spectacle that will deserve one.
What group G will present to the U.S. is the precise task for which Jurgen Klinsmann was hired, a challenge that gives the stars and stripes the chance to prove that they’ve reached another level. It will be a group that is sure to grab the attention of casual fans, a category in which the majority of those born in the states fall under by default. What it will not be, however, is a group for excuses. You mind as well throw them out now.
Match-ups too difficult, even for the World Cup’s standards? Nope. “If you want to get one day in the top ten or top twelve, you have to start beating them,” Klinsmann told ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap with a bemused smile.
Worst travel schedule amongst all 32 teams? Take that somewhere else. “I think that makes the story even better.” said analyst and former American international Taylor Twellman, while holding back a laugh. “I’m sorry, I’m not a big excuses guy.”
For three games that offer so much color, excitement and fun (which, ultimately, the game of football is all about), providing a large amount of focus on the “negatives” would be a true waste of the imagination. But even for the pessimists there are reasons to look on the bright side in trying to map out the U.S.’ route into the round of 16.
According to the Soccer Power Index, a concoction of sports super-geek Nate Silver, the Americans chances of advancing rest at 39%, finishing by just the smallest of margins behind Portugal (40%) and ten point higher than Ghana (29%). Germany, unsurprisingly, boast the largest chance of advancing at 92%. And should the U.S. find their way in the knockout stages after three matches, they’ll be paired against the winner of Group H, which features Belgium, Algeria, Russia and South Korea, none of whom are likely to propose a tougher task than what the Americans will have already gone through by then.
As for the travel, that might be much more of an issue for a nation like England, a geographically smaller country with a league that features few lengthy trips between teams. But with a squad that boasts players who’ve grown accustomed to moving and shifting between Seattle, Chicago and New York regularly, mileage should very much be the least of the Americans’ worries.
Worst travel itinerary at World Cup you say?!! No biggie thanks to MLS.
— Kyle Martino (@kylemartino) December 6, 2013
But if there’s any reason to cast doubt aside in favor of belief, it’s because the U.S. deserves it. The squad that will feature in Brazil 2014 is quite simply a different animal to the American teams of World Cups past. This is a unit that has successfully travailed it’s way through Europe, coming away with impressive results in Italy, Russia and Bosnia.. This is team that has buried demons of the past, landing a win and draw at Mexico’s formerly impenetrable Azteca stadium in the past year, before showing a ruthless side in stealing a World Cup place from Panama in the dying minutes of an away fixture with seemingly no incentive to do so, having comfortably secured their place in Brazil.
In a year that marked a centennial which was celebrated by a 4-3 win over Germany in the nation’s capital, Americans fans can comfortably say that the U.S. men’s national team is very much one that has grown up. And there’s no better way to further prove that by claiming success in advancing at the World Cup, a challenge that puts the spotlight on the team’s opener on June 16 in Natal, and a task for which Jurgen Klinsmann’s plan seems frank.
“After two losses (to Ghana) it’s about time to beat them.”