Group of Death
While the USMNT is ranked 8th in the world by FIFA, no one seriously believes that the US is the 8th best soccer team in world, so their not being one of the eight seeded teams for Friday's World Cup group draw is neither unfair or surprising. Still, gaining a seed would probably have spared the US what most likely will be a brutal draw. Here are the pots, with the seeded teams in Pot One:
• Pot One: Argentina, Brazil, England, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico and Spain
• Pot Two: Australia, Angola, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo, Tunisia, Ecuador, Paraguay
• Pot Three: Croatia, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine
• Pot Four: Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Costa Rica, Trinidad & Tobago, United States
• Special Pot: Serbia & Montenegro
The US cannot draw Mexico (same region). If the US draws either Argentina or Brazil, they will not draw either Ecuador or Paraguay (since they couldn't be drawn with either Argentina or Brazil). This is double-edged: other than host Germany, Argentina and Brazil are clearly the best two teams of the seeded. The question becomes, is it better to draw Argentina or Brazil and one of the African minnows (or Australia) or draw England, France, Italy, Spain, or (worse case) Germany and maybe get stuck with Ecuador or Paraguay?
Who the USMNT gets pulled with from Pot Three, though, will determine whether they get through group play. The Dutch, though traditionally chokers, are as physically skilled as any team not Brazilian. The Portugese would like nothing better than to play the team that stunned them in the first game of the opening round in 2002 (and cost them advancement). Poland beat the US in 2002, decisively, in a game the USMNT thought they had to win (and if South Korea hadn't tied Portugal the Americans wouldn't have advanced). The Swedes, the Czechs, the Croatians, all would be difficult. The Swiss and Ukrainians wouldn't be easy.
Worse case scenario? Germany, Holland, Paraguay. Best case scenario? Spain, Angola, Ukraine.