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]