Walking out of the 2006 World Cup Draw in Germany, Bruce Arena knew that the United States’ tournament was over before it even started.
Despite boasting a strong side that would climb into the top ten of the FIFA World Rankings, Arena knew that the draw had spit out an impossible task for the USA.
It was clear to the coach that the size and physicality of the formidable Czech Republic would leave the US reeling, and the athleticism of African side Ghana would present problems as well. A matchup with eventual champion Italy spoke for itself.
Draw Day was Doomsday for the Americans in 2006. Half a year later, the US crashed out of the World Cup with a single point; and Arena — a man who has never gotten along with the draws — departed the job.
In 2010, the draw in South Africa opened the door for the United States. In a group with a weak England, and minnows Slovenia and Algeria, Bob Bradley’s team flourished and advanced as group winners.
When each team looks at its group after the field is set Friday in Brazil, each team will know that it needs to a minimum of a win and a draw to advance. That’s why a potential group with Brazil, France, and the Netherlands, as just one example, is a worrying concern for the United States.
Already, the USA is in a spot of real trouble. Because FIFA only seeds one pot, or eight teams, and the other three pots are divided up on the basis of geography, the Americans are in Pot 3 with the other teams from CONCACAF and Asia. This means that Jurgen Klinsmann’s team will be the strongest team in the weakest pot.
Looking at the 32 teams and the four pots, the US would be clear favorites to beat 5-6 of the teams that are in the Americans’ pot, which mean the US will not be playing them in the group stage.
It’s an uncomfortable position, and one that can produce many horror groups. Fancy meeting Germany, Ghana, and Holland? How about Spain, Ivory Coast, and Portugal? What about Argentina, England and Italy?
With the strength of the field and the unusual seeding, the US has a one in two chance at being drawn into a Group of Death. Plus, while South Africa 2010 had North Korea and New Zealand, all 32 teams who have qualified this time are stronger and better than four years ago.
The reality is that the World Cup is one tough beast. Since the US qualified in 1990 for the first time in 40 years, the Americans are 4-13-5 in the competition. Of those four wins, one was on home soil in 1994, one was against familiar foe Mexico, and the one in 2010 required the latest goal in World Cup history from Landon Donovan.
World Cups are extremely competitive. And it’s not always the seeded teams that get you; in fact, the USA hasn’t lost to the seeded team in its group since 1998.