Well, it could have been worse, but not by much

By Ridge Mahoney

First impressions from the 2014 World Cup draw as filtered through the U.S. prism:

GHANA AGAIN? The Americans will be searching for positives for being matched once again with the nation that beat the USA in the 2006 group phase and the 2010 round of 16. There aren't many. If there's an African bogey team for the USA, this is the one.

Fast, technical, and powerful, the Ghanaians in 2010 reached the quarterfinals, where they were robbed of a victory against Uruguay when Luis Suarez batted down what would have been a go-ahead goal in overtime.

World Cup 2014: Schedule

Ghana’s attacking zeal may open up counterattack opportunities for the USA but withstanding quick, tough, strong opponents for 90 minutes will be a severe test, and this squad will have many veterans of the 2006 and 2010 competitions as well as European club play.

In both tournaments, the countries met after playing at least two games. This time they meet in the opener. The Americans advanced in 1994 with a tie against Switzerland in their opener, with a defeat of Portugal in 2002, and a tie with England in 2010.

With two strong European foes looming in the second and third group games, a point is imperative. But of course, Ghana will envision the same scenario and its record against the USA gives it plenty of confidence that it can, and probably must, win.

GROUP OF EURODOOM? We need new names for a Group of Death since the 2014 draw has produced several, including that of the USA, one of the unfortunate countries matched with a pair of European powers. Germany has won the World Cup four times; Portugal and the Netherlands are the two nations with the greatest history of teams and players that have never won it.

When he took the U.S. job in 2011, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann stressed the importance of playing as many games as possible against good European teams. Albeit in friendlies, the Americans have done well; they’ve beaten Germany at home, defeated Bosnia-Herzegovina and Italy and Slovenia away, and tied Russia, 2-2, a year ago in Krasnodar. They more than make up for the 4-2 loss to Belgium in Cleveland in May.

The Portuguese weren’t well-prepared in 2002 and were caught napping by an assertive U.S. team in the opener, falling behind, 3-0, and rallying to fall short, 3-2. There won’t be any element of surprise in June. But this time, the Americans must be ready to beat a good European team, straight-up, with no chaser.

From the first day of training camp leading up to the 2002 tournament, head coach Bruce Arena told his team every day, “We can beat Portugal.” The players came to believe it and ultimately did it. For 2014, Jurgen Klinsmann must convince his team that “We can beat anyone.”

Maybe if Germany wins its first two games and can thus top the group with a tie it keeps something in reserve against the U.S. in the last group game. Flashing back to 2002 again, in the quarterfinals the Americans battled evenly against a German team that eventually lost in the final to Brazil. In the 1-0 defeat of the USA, Torsten Frings blocked a deflected shot by Gregg Berhalter with his arm on the goal line and a clip of that incident will be ubiquitous between now and the match June 26 in Recife.

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN. The USA will look at Group E and see it taking Honduras’ slot against Switzerland, Ecuador and France. The first two nations were among those preferred coming out of the seeded pot (Switzerland) and Pot 2 (Ecuador). A place in Group H with Belgium, Algeria and Russia would have been gratefully accepted, with Group C (Greece, Colombia, Ivory Coast) slightly less sexy but much better than what it got.

TRAVEL TRAVAILS. The U.S. travels to the Amazon jungle to play Portugal in Manaus in between opening on the Northeastern coast against Portugal in Natal and returning to the same area to face Germany in Recife -- the shortest trip at 2 hours, 50 minutes.
25 comments about "Well, it could have been worse, but not by much".
  1. David Huff, December 6, 2013 at 3:18 p.m.

    We have ended up in a Group of Death with Germany, Ghana and Portugal. We beat Portugal in 2002 Japan/Korea when they took us lightly, that won't happen again because they will remember what happened 10 years ago. We are toast, its very unfortunate that Klinsmann got this draw rather than the easy one that Bradley received and squandered in 2010.

  2. Joseph Pratt, December 6, 2013 at 3:31 p.m.

    Brutal. We need to get at least a point against Ghana, and then hope they do some damage against Germany and Portugal to give us a chance to finish second. But to come out of a group featuring Germany and Portugal? With 9000 miles of travel all told?

  3. Power Dive, December 6, 2013 at 3:33 p.m.

    I'll agree the odds are stacked against us. I wouldn't bet a large sum of money that we will advance. However, 1-1-1 is definitely possible and that could see us through. With the Klinsmann connection (and it being the final game), I see the Germany game as either being very close or a blowout for Germany. No idea what to expect out of the Ghana and Portugal games.
    If we do happen to advance, the team should have a tremendous amount of confidence and momentum going into the knock-out rounds.

  4. Paul Estrada, December 6, 2013 at 3:39 p.m.

    This draw seemed like a Hollywood script. The odds of drawing Ghana three World Cups in a row are 1 in 512. No matter, a win against Ghana is essential, and we are due.

  5. Kent James, December 6, 2013 at 3:50 p.m.

    Yes, it's hard to see much good in such a difficult draw. The only consolation is that psychologically, we seem to do better as underdogs than as favorites, and we'll definitely be underdogs!

  6. David Huff, December 6, 2013 at 4:14 p.m.

    If nothing else, I would like to see us give Ghana some much-deserved payback, beating them and knock them out of the WC.

  7. Glenn Auve, December 6, 2013 at 4:16 p.m.

    We could have beaten Ghana last time if Bradley hadn't put out that awful line up. They weren't "robbed" by anyone in the Uruguay game. All they had to do was score the PK. But choked.

    Way too much boo hoo-ing and defeatism from the pundits and fans. It's the World Cup! It's not supposed to be easy.

  8. Walt Pericciuoli, December 6, 2013 at 4:22 p.m.

    Odds were always against drawing an easy group. We need to just suck it up and get on with it.Or,are we making our excuses already. Beating Ghana should not be that hard of an assignment for our boys. With a result in one of the other games,(which also should be doable) then we should get thru.let's go USA

  9. Power Dive, December 6, 2013 at 4:30 p.m.

    Not to get everyone too excited, but if we 1/1,000,000 finished first in our group the likely opponents - round of 16 opponent Algeria/Russia/S. Korea. Round of 8 opponent Swiss/Bosnia-Herz. That would actually be doable.

  10. David Huff, December 6, 2013 at 5:07 p.m.

    Personally I would like to see us destroy Ghana, 3-0, 4-0, etc. I don't care so much about the other matches. It is time for the Black Stars to become falling stars.

  11. Don Wilson, December 6, 2013 at 5:43 p.m.

    Are you kidding me? I love this draw! Why wouldn't we want to go up against a nemesis, an historically elite team, and the second best player in the world? We may not be ready, but when we leave the field on June 26th, we'll know a whole lot more about our soccer nation than we do now. And the what-ifs are something to savor until then. This is, uh... stoke city?

  12. Chris Sapien , December 6, 2013 at 7:29 p.m.

    Well done Don and Glenn, Athletes at this high caliber should relish the chance to play these nations, given all the history, "nemesis", champions, world's second best player and such. I nearly jumped out of my seat when our first match was announced against Ghana! If you can't get pumped-up and perform (both as players AND red, white and blue bleeding fans) when you have these opportunities to shine on the world stage, don't lace-up the boots my friends!! Dozens of stories, both before the WC and before each group game, that may have bearing, will unfold in time, with many variables to each as well. Big boy pants everyone....USA, USA, USA,

  13. cisco martinez, December 6, 2013 at 7:44 p.m.

    Historically, when the US has gotten a win/tie in its first game they have advanced. In 1994, 1-1 (Switzerland), 2002 (Portugal) 3-2, and 2010 (England) 1-1. I am not too optimistic, Although I do think that the first two games will determine USA's fate.

  14. David Huff, December 6, 2013 at 9:36 p.m.

    Well Chris I can picture it now, when our high-caliber footballers march into the stadium for each of these matches they will eagerly cry out to the assembled masses "From those of us about to die we salute you!" prior to the start of each spectacle. If we can take the head of Ghana in such arena then this Caesar will be satisfied.

  15. Walt Pericciuoli, December 6, 2013 at 9:53 p.m.

    We fellows,let's face reality. If we still can't beat Ghana, then we have made no progress since the last two WC's.In that case,we should not expect to get out of the first round.
    I think we have made that progress and I am optimistic that we'll win that first match and then somehow figure out a way to eek out a result in one of the other two group games and we'll move on to the round of 16

  16. Chris Sapien , December 7, 2013 at 2:20 a.m.

    uh, OK..........bottom line is, if you resign yourself to thinking you don't have the talent, nor the chance to do something extraordinary, you never will!! So rather than settling for this or that, I say they can and should get out of the group, and if you asked Klinns and the boys what they think heading out to the pitch, pretty sure they would expect the same from themselves. (with the understanding that they can't spout out anything prior to matches that could be used as bulletin board material)

  17. Andy Wagner, December 7, 2013 at 5:09 a.m.

    It is obvious this country has nor progressed...if all you can do is hope for the best.

  18. Che Guevara, December 7, 2013 at 11:45 a.m.

    I dont hear too many people saying what they usually say about African teams. That they dont do well in Senior World Cups. Only in Youth World Cups. So if they dont do much then why are we now so worried about being able to beat them now?. SHouldnt we be jumping out of joy??

  19. David Huff, December 7, 2013 at 1:03 p.m.

    @ Che, I'll say it then, most African teams have great individual talent but they have poor or average team chemistry and tend to be disorganized, even to the point of the players going on strike on the eve of WC over pay issues because of fears their federation is going to cheat them out of their pay and bonuses. However, that is not the issue where we have evidence of a problem with Ghana in the last two WCs, losing each time. So the concerns about them are legitimate. We need to bring a maximum effort and go after them, the Black Stars need to be eliminated from the WC torneo starting with a loss to the US.

  20. Andy Wagner, December 7, 2013 at 3:32 p.m.

    African nations are easy to solve. You must beat them early. They are very athletic and will expend every ounce of energy early. The second half is when African nations are vulnerable. You cannot let them go ahead early or you are done. They have the athleticism to counter you if you have to chase the game. With our defense, you do not want to go this route.

  21. Che Guevara, December 7, 2013 at 9:23 p.m.

    David, So African teams have poor to average team chemistry and are not organized but only when USA doesnt play them?? I agree with everything you said and I think they have the top talent but break down at senior level for those reasons but so then why again are we so scared of them?? So this only means USA is no better than an average team with no chemistry. Right?

  22. David Huff, December 8, 2013 at 3:41 p.m.

    Again Che, reading comprehension is needed, I gave the reason why there is concern with this particular African team, given the direct evidence of the past two WCs. That said, we have a better team than in the past and arguably the best coach in the history of the USMNT team so I believe we can prevail against them in "Partido de revancha"

  23. Che Guevara, December 9, 2013 at 11:23 a.m.

    David, I think it is you who is not comprehending. ALL African teams are average at best according to you. That would include Ghana, correct?? So this means our USA team has been poor because they have lost to them twice. If we are above average now then this means we should fear no African team which includes GHana, correct??

  24. Che Guevara, December 9, 2013 at 11:25 a.m.

    According to many here that state that African teams only do good at Youth World Cups but porrly at Senior's, we should only be talking about getting a result vs Portugal and Germany to advance because according to your statements Ghana should be a give in.

  25. Che Guevara, December 9, 2013 at 11:30 a.m.

    David, Mexico is expected to finish 2nd at least in their group that includes Cameroon and Croatia. Croatia is ranked higher than Ghana. Usa finished 1st in Concacaf but we are still scared of Ghana??

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