The 'Group of Death' for United States in World Cup? It's put up or shut up time for the red, white and blue

The 'Group of Death' for United States in World Cup? It's put up or shut up time for the red, white and blue

Clint Dempsey and Cristiano Ronaldo will battle in the Amazon rainforest next June.

Come in off the ledge, soccer fans. All is not yet lost.

If the World Cup is the most anticipated event on the soccer calendar, then the World Cup draw is a close second. The draw happened Friday morning, and, um ... things could have gone better for the Red, White and Blue.

First, a quick primer: The World Cup consists of 32 teams, split into eight groups of four teams. It will run from June to July in Brazil. Each group has one "seeded" team, and the rest of the teams are drawn at random, with the only rule being to separate teams from the same geographic region as much as possible.

The United States (curently ranked 14th in the mysterious FIFA World Rankings) was drawn against:

  • Germany (the 2nd ranked team in the world)
  • Ghana (the team that has bounced the USA in the last two World Cups)
  • Cristiano Ronaldo, the best player in the world (and the rest of his Portuguese comrades)

So, go ahead. Freak out. You can watch this to help calm down:

[nbcsports_video src=//www.youtube.com/embed/jbn3rOPmR9w width=620 height=349]

All done? OK. Here's why we should embrace the challenge, not be afraid of it.

The United States has spent the last decade trying to get respect from the rest of the world in the sport we call "soccer." The success of players abroad -- such as Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey and more -- has definitely helped. As have friendly wins in Italy, Bosnia, etc.

But much of the world (I'm looking at you, Europe) still laughs when they think of American soccer. And if we had lucked into a group with Switzerland or Ecuador, we could have advanced to the quarterfinals and still heard "Eh, they had an easy road."

That won't be a problem this time around.

If the Americans can somehow get out of the group (something I expect them to do), they would face a VERY winnable game in the round of 16 against likely Belgium or Russia, followed by a quarterfinal against likely France or Argentina.

Get to the round of 16 -- or more -- and you'll never again have to worry about soccer snobs looking down on us. Because we'll have earned it. And guess what? Right now, in Germany, Ghana and Portugal, no one is happy to see the letters "USA" in Group G.

According to math-geek extraordinaire Nate Silver and ESPN, we have a 39.3 percent chance of reaching the knockout stage. Germany is the clear favorite in the group. But I would argue that the USA is a better team than Ghana, and the word "Ghana" simply scares us because we can only remember this and this from the last two World Cups. As for Portugal, they are very talented, but the aura of Cristiano Ronaldo hides the holes in the roster. I would call this game a straight-up coin flip.

The bigger issue than the teams in the group might be the locations of the games. The United States will fly 8,866 miles for its three group games, including one against Portugal (Sunday, June 12, 3 p.m. Eastern) that is essentially in the Amazon rainforest.

On the equator. In June.

From the first game against Ghana on Monday, June 6 (6 p.m.) to the last game against Germany on Thursday, June 26 (noon), the team will fly the equivalent of TWO complete roundtrips from Philadelphia to Seattle.

We have plenty of time to break things down more before June. But for now, calm down, have some confidence, and reserve a barstool at Brauhaus Schmitz for USA-Germany (oh, and call in sick now).

And, in the words of Ian Darke, "GO, GO USA!"

[nbcsports_video src=//www.youtube.com/embed/2bg8vQKN4m8 width=620 height=349]

5 Eagles to watch on offense and defense at OTAs

5 Eagles to watch on offense and defense at OTAs

Tuesday is a big day in the progression of the 2017 Eagles

The team is finally all together as OTAs kick off at the NovaCare Complex. We've already looked at the biggest storylines of the week (see story), but how about the individual players? 

Well, let's look at five offensive and five defensive players to watch this week, leaving out Carson Wentz. Yeah, we're going to watch the QB. 

Offense

Alshon Jeffery
Jeffery won't be hard to spot. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound receiver was brought in on a one-year deal this offseason. He's been in Philly working out, but this will be his first time at a real practice with his new team. Maybe we'll quickly get a sense of his chemistry with Wentz. 

Torrey Smith
At his introductory press conference in March, Smith was asked about his speed and responded by jokingly challenging a reporter to a race. While that never happened, it's fair to wonder what the Eagles are getting in Smith. He wasn't the same player in San Francisco, so we'll get to see if he has some gas left in the tank. 

Donnel Pumphrey
We already got a glimpse of Pumphrey during rookie camp, but didn't get a long time to watch practice. At OTAs, we'll see everything. The biggest thing that stood out about Pumphrey a couple weeks ago was his size — or lack of size. How will Doug Pederson use his new weapon? We might get some hints this week. 

LeGarrette Blount
Pumphrey and Blount technically play the same position, yet Blount is 74 pounds heavier. To put that in perspective, 74 pounds is about the weight of an average 10-year-old. Blount has been in the league for nearly a decade, but he's in a new offense in Philly (without a true tight end), so we'll see where he is in a short time with the team.  

Taylor Hart
Normally we wouldn't put an offensive lineman on a list of guys to watch in shorts, but Hart is transitioning from defensive tackle to offensive tackle and this is the first chance to see him on offense. Worth watching. He was pretty excited about the switch in January (see story).

Defense

Timmy Jernigan
Honestly, it's harder to evaluate defensive players during OTAs because there's no hitting, and it's even harder to evaluate linemen. Jernigan, though, is worth watching because he's replacing Bennie Logan. 

Rasul Douglas
We've already seen Douglas at rookie camp, but he was really looking forward to lining up against some veterans like Jeffery. Douglas was a third-rounder, but he might be more important to the team in 2017 than any other rookie simply because of his position. 

Patrick Robinson
Speaking of the cornerback position, this week is the first of seeing Robinson, who signed a one-year deal that's mostly gone forgotten. The 29-year-old former first-round pick is coming off a rough yearlong stint with the Colts, but was much better in 2015 with the Chargers. He's on a prove-it deal, so who knows if he'll be the Eagles' best option. 

Ron Brooks
One of the biggest losses the Eagles suffered during the 2016 season was when Brooks went down with a bad leg injury. No, Brooks wasn't great before the injury, but he was the team's slot corner, which kept Malcolm Jenkins at safety. Not sure where Brooks is in his recovery, but don't forget about him. Jim Schwartz clearly likes Brooks. 

Joe Walker
Walker is recovering from an ACL tear from last preseason. He was lining up to be the team's backup middle linebacker before the injury and the 2016 seventh-round pick will probably have the inside track to win that job this year ... as long as he regains his form from before the injury. 

NBA Playoffs: Warriors sweep their way to 3rd straight NBA Finals

NBA Playoffs: Warriors sweep their way to 3rd straight NBA Finals

BOX SCORE

SAN ANTONIO -- Stephen Curry scored 36 points as the Golden State Warriors closed out the Western Conference Final against the injury-ravaged San Antonio Spurs with a 129-115 victory Monday night, becoming the first team in league history to start the playoffs 12-0.

Golden State led by as many as 22 points in cruising to its third straight NBA Finals. The Warriors await a possible third straight championship matchup with Cleveland, which leads Boston 2-1 in the East finals.

"It's great to be one of the last two teams standing, we'll see how it goes," said Kevin Durant, who had 29 points and 12 rebounds.

San Antonio's only lead came on the opening possession when Manu Ginobili tossed in a left-handed scoop shot. The Spurs started Ginobili in what could be his final game with the team. The 39-year-old had maintained he will not ponder whether to retire or return until after the season.

Unsure if the beloved veteran will return, the crowd serenaded Ginobili with "Manu, Manu" chants as the game came to a close.

"An amazing competitor, even more fun playing against him," Durant said of Ginobili. "He was phenomenal this series."

Kyle Anderson scored 20 points to lead the Spurs, who were without Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and David Lee. San Antonio didn't go down without a fight despite the injuries.

Anderson dove on the court for a loose ball that the Spurs had tipped away defensively, pushing the ball upcourt to Patty Mills who fed Ginobili for a 3-pointer that pulled San Antonio to 108-94 with 7 minutes remaining.

The effort made Spurs coach Gregg Popovich smile and clap at times, but the Warriors' depth and talent proved too much for short-handed San Antonio.

Golden State shot 56 percent and were 14 for 39 on 3-pointers.

Draymond Green had 16 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for the Warriors.

Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge closed out a disappointing series with his second eight-point effort against the Warriors.

Ginobili finished with 15 points in 32 minutes.