On paper, the U.S. Men’s National Team and the other seven nations placed in Pot 3 look like they are going to get an unfavorable draw at the 2014 World Cup Draw on Friday. Pot 3 has the U.S., the rest of CONCACAF, and the four qualifiers from Asia, whereas Pot 1 has the top eight seeds, Pot 2 the rest of South America and Africa, and Pot 4 the nine unseeded European qualifiers. It may seem a bit unfair for the Yanks, whose world ranking is a respectable 14, but geographically, it is where the U.S. fits in.
Pot 3 has an average world ranking of 39.0 compared to the next worse, Pot 2, at 27.4. With the 2014 World Cup being one of the strongest fields in the quadrennial tournament’s history, it is totally possible that the U.S. will draw with the so-called “group of death.” A draw there would pit the Clint Dempsey-captained Americans with the likes of Neymar and the favored host nation, Christiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, and Robin van Persie’s Netherlands, all nations ranked higher than 14. Or the Stars and Stripes could get fortunate, like they did in 2010, and take the pitch against a mixture of nations like Switzerland, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Algeria.
Regardless of whom the U.S. or any other Pot 3 team ends up, expect a few teams from the statistically weakest pot to play football into the knockout stages. For one, the teams in Pot 3 are not all that bad. Japan’s Keisuke Honda (CSKA Moscow), Korea Republic’s Son Heung-Min (Bayer Luverkusen), Mexico’s Javier Hernandez (Manchester United), and America’s Michael Bradley (AS Roma) have all proven themselves as world-class players in Europe. In fact, all four of their nations made the knockout stages of the last World Cup, all defeating another 2014 returnee during the group stage; that is more than any other pot besides Pot 1 can claim.
Another reason for optimism lies in UEFA. It is more than likely that a Pot 3 team will play two group stage games against a UEFA nation, but not to worry. UEFA’s teams, the countries who typically dominate the world rankings and the world’s headlines, play down to the competition when they have to venture to World Cup’s outside Europe. Flash back to the defending champions Italy in South Africa, or another reigning champ, France, in Korea/Japan. It is totally possible for the European bigwigs to flop next summer in Brazil, opening the door for an underdog from Pot 3 to take advantage and become the darlings of the tournament.
Out of all the Pot 3 squads, it is clear that the U.S. has the best possibility to climb to the top of their group standings. The majority of their players ply their trade in the upper-echelon leagues of Europe; Jurgen Klinsmann knows what it takes to win a World Cup (albeit as a player), and the world’s best respects the progress the United States has made over the years. You can bet the rest of the world does not want to see the United States pulled out and drawn into their group.