World Cup draw predictions: the USA is screwed

Bend over USMNT. The Group of Death is headed your way.

UPDATED: It’s official.

Good news: the US men’s soccer team has qualified for the World Cup in Brazil next summer. Bad news: they’re fucked.

Earlier today our boy Bret Higgins passed around a link to this analysis by Tony Manfred at, of all places, Business Insider. He has looked hard at the impending draw, to be held December 6, and concluded that, well, we’re fucked.

The way it works is this. There are eight groups of four teams each. All the teams are placed into one of four pots and then a team from each pot is randomly drawn into each group. In other words, each of the groups will contain one randomly drawn team from each of the four pots. The first pot contains the top eight seeds, and this includes big dogs like Brazil, Spain and Germany. The other pots are comprised according to relative strength and regional considerations, because FIFA wants to have nations playing nations from elsewhere around the world. Europe vs. Asia. North America vs. South America. And so on. The top two teams out of each group advance to the round of 16 and the rest fly home to watch the knockout stages on TV.

In each World Cup there is at least one “group of death,” a pool that’s stronger than the others. Instead of two good teams there are three, and the fourth team might not be a pushover, either. And Manfred’s point is that this year, the US is just about guaranteed to be drawn into the grupo de la muerte. Read his piece for the full explanation, but the short version is this. You want to be in a group with one of the really bad teams, but that can’t happen when you’re in the pot with all of them. And this year we’re the best team in the worst group, which means that whatever group we wind up in will be, by definition, the group of death.


Then Michael Leaves sent a link to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Group stage Draws Simulator. It’s a simple enough little engine. It randomly picks a team out of each pot and drops it into a group. Run it a few times and you begin to get a picture of what the possibilities are.

Which is what I did. Here are some sample results.

  • USA / Brazil / Nigeria / Netherlands: Ouch.
  • USA / Argentina / France / Netherlands: Oh good. Let’s see if we have anyone who can mark Messi.
  • USA / Argentine / Ivory Coast / England: It tells you something that I view England and Team Didier Drogba as being actually not so bad, given the alternatives.
  • USA / Uruguay / France / Netherlands: France is a borderline pack of highly talented, if dysfunctional prima donnas. That’s the soft spot in this group.
  • USA / Uruguay / Ghana / Greece: The Greeks I can live with, but Uruguay is terrifying and I have speculated that Ghana has the chance to be the best team in African history.
  • USA / Brazil / Cameroon / Portugal: Ah – Cristiano Ronaldo. That should be fun.
  • USA / Belgium / Cameroon / England: Belgium? Not want.

And so on, and so on. Go play it yourself for awhile.

The upshot is this. There is zero hope for a reasonable pool. It isn’t a choice between good and bad, it’s a choice between bad and worse. Your worst-case scenario would look something like this:

  • USA / Brazil, Spain or Germany / Ecuador, Chile or Ghana / Netherlands or Portugal

Manfred is afraid of these possibilities, and he should be:

The chances of this happening are distressingly high. The best we could hope for, on the other hand, would probably be:

  • USA / Switzerland / Algeria / Greece

This I could live with, although Switzerland is good only in the sense that they aren’t Germany. As Manfred notes, our only crack at a really bad team is Algeria. I ran the simulator a bunch of times and they didn’t come up once. I hope that isn’t a harbinger.

December 6 is going to be interesting. And exciting. And thrilling. But if you’re a USMNT fan, probably not a lot of fun.

Categories: Sports

8 replies »

  1. While I agree that this is a rough field, it’s not as bad as you make it. In each of the 3 other pots, there are 3-4 countries that are a lot worse than the others.

    From pot 1, we need to avoid Brazil, Germany, Spain and Argentina.

    Pot 3: avoid Ivory Coast, Ghana, France, and perhaps Chile.

    Pot 4: Avoid Netherlands, Italy, Portugal and perhaps England.

    There’s a 50/50 chance of each of those three scenarios. The other countries in each pot are not cakewalks, but will make matters much more manageable.

    • Yes, there are possibilities that are less worse. I agree with you on who to avoid. The thing is, unless we manage to draw Algeria, our idea of a decent pool will include someone like Greece. And if your best options involve a team that qualified out of EUROPE, you’re up against it.

      This is potentially the best American team ever and I’m not counting them out by a long shot. But if we advance, we’ll by god have earned it.

    • There are several other teams including the ones you listed that the US will more than likely lose to. Teams such as Bosnia and Croatia for example. In pot 1, every team except for Switzerland would beat the US. In pot 3, Algeria and Ecuador are the two teams they should hope for. And finally in pot 4, every single team on that list would beat the US. I think that 4th pot is going to generate some wonderful surprises this upcoming World Cup.

  2. Just for the record, the US are only the second-best team in their pot. Anyone who has watched both teams will tell you that Japan are stronger at the moment than the US. They looked fantastic against the Netherlands the other day, and have been consistently high-class for a couple of years now.

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