When the draw was made for the World Cup on Friday, a collective gasp from American soccer fans went up when they were drawn in what will surely be known as the Group of Death. Ghana, Germany and Portugal will face the USA in Brazil and Jurgen Klinsmann has six months to finish preparations for the side before traveling south.
Taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture, though, things may not be all doom-and-gloom for Team USA, and here is why.
The USA found themselves in a tough Group when the World Cup was held in South Africa in 2010, and were lucky to get a tie against England in their opening game. By lucky, I mean the way the goal went in but not on the balance of play. The second game started of disastrously when they found themselves 2-0 at the half, but again pulled off the tie. When Landon Donovan scored the winner in injury time in the third game, the U.S. qualified — at the top of the Group too!
Ghana proved to be too much in the final 16, but that will hopefully only add an extra motivator when the U.S. kicks off their first game of the 2014 World Cup against them. If Klinsmann can get the side off the plane raring to go and get three points against Ghana, they will be in great shape. One of the other two teams will drop points, and it would be better for the USA if it is Portugal who lose out to Germany.
Germany should handle Ghana in their second game, so that means when the U.S. face Portugal on June 22, the USA could find themselves with one foot in the door if they can get a tie. Assume Germany won both their games and the USA tied with Portugal, that means going into the final game, the USA will be three points ahead of Portugal and playing a team already qualified and full of the U.S. manager’s countrymen.
Klinsmann will celebrate his third year in charge of the USMNT during the World Cup — three days after the final Group game, in fact — and the schedule he has put the side on will really show their growth. Every game played in 2010, with the exception of one against the Netherlands and the World Cup has taken place in the USA.
2011 continued that trend until Klinsmann took over, and instantly games in France, Belgium and Slovenia were arranged. The results were not great, with the Slovenian win being the only time the USA even scored. 2012 was a little more subdued with the World Cup qualification process taking place, but they still traveled to Italy and got a 1-0 win and to Russia in November for a tie game.
2013 finished with another two lackluster European trips, but the point is that this U.S. side are more prepared to face the European style of play, and away from the U.S. mainland where the fans are always passionate. It is great experience for them to go to face thousands of angry Frenchmen, rowdy Scots or Russians.
Klinsmann knew that the World Cup group would probably have a couple of European sides and set his side up for that test over and over again throughout his first few years. If they do happen to qualify in second position, then Belgium or Russia could face them in the last 16.
At this point, I think the biggest obstacle for the side would be the amount of travel, but I do think the draw of the order of the matches has been kind to the U.S., and I will put my head on the block to say that a quarterfinal is not out of reach.