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:

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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!"

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Watch: Travis Konecny scores his 1st NHL goal, joyfully hugs Ivan Provorov

Watch: Travis Konecny scores his 1st NHL goal, joyfully hugs Ivan Provorov

The first of many for the kid.

Travis Konecny on Tuesday night scored goal No. 1 of what should be an exciting and promising career in orange and black.

Not only was it the 19-year-old's first NHL marker, but it ignited a third-period comeback from three goals down as the Flyers stunned the Sabres at the Wells Fargo Center with a 4-3 shootout win when they looked dead in the water at second intermission.

"Obviously, it makes it 3-1," Brayden Schenn said of Konecny's special moment. "It gets the crowd going a bit. It gets us going. Any time a guy scores a first goal, like I said, it gets a little more excitement through the building and through our team."

The goal wasn't of the flashy variety, but it epitomized the youngster's complete game. Teammates have routinely praised Konecny for his willingness to score ugly by finding the greasy areas — as we so love to call them — and doing work, despite his a not-so-intimidating frame.

So skillfully, Konecny deflected a power-play point drive by the other 19-year-old Ivan Provorov. Like a little kid — then again, he is a teenager — Konecny leapt into the boards in celebration, smiling ear to ear. In came Provorov for a big hug. Watching those two have fun is fun.

Flyers fans, frame this screenshot and hang it somewhere (and don't you dare cut out Matt Read). Meanwhile, for Konecny's goal and the celebration, watch the video above.

Instant Replay: Flyers 4, Sabres 3 (SO)

Instant Replay: Flyers 4, Sabres 3 (SO)


A very tired Flyers squad came back with a vengeance against the well-rested Buffalo Sabres Tuesday night to win, 4-3, in a shootout at the Wells Fargo Center.
Claude Giroux got the shootout winner.

It was an ugly affair for 40 minutes, starting with goalie Michal Neuvirth, who allowed three goals on 17 shots before being lifted in the second period for the second time in two weeks. The Flyers trailed 3-0 going into the third period.
Whatever energy the Flyers had coming back from Montreal on Monday was saved for the third period when they got three power-play goals from Travis Konecny, Brayden Schenn and Mark Streit to make it 3-3.
The Sabres had not played a game in five days while the Flyers are in the midst of six games in nine days and it showed.
The rookie Konecny scored his first NHL goal in the third period, tipping home Ivan Provorov’s point drive during a power play.
Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas returned after serving a six-game suspension to begin the season.
New lines
In an effort to get Schenn going — scoreless in three games coming in — coach Dave Hakstol dropped him to the third line with Nick Cousins and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Matt Read, the club’s top goal scorer, moved into Schenn’s spot on the top line with Giroux and Wayne Simmonds.
Boyd Gordon played his 700th NHL game.
Notable goals
Konecny’s first NHL marker.
Goalie report
There was probably not much Neuvirth could do on the Sabres' first goal. Zemgus Girgensons shot from a hard angle in the corner to the net and the puck jumped, hitting Tyler Ennis for a 1-0 lead in the second period. That said, he wasn’t very good on the next two goals. Neuvirth has been pulled twice in just three starts.
Power play
The Flyers' power play awakened. Konecny's goal, plus Schenn's and Streit's. That marked a season high, too.
Penalty kill
Chris VandeVelde overskated the puck during a shorthanded two-on-one for what would have been a goal in the first period. Gordon lost a draw to Ryan O’Reilly and Matt Moulson jumped on it, went to the net with purpose for a quick backhander to make it 2-0 3:56 into the second period. Moulson had two power-play goals. The Flyers' PK units were poor.
Simmonds avoided a hearing and possible suspension for his cross check from behind to Montreal’s Andrei Markov on Monday night that jolted the Canadiens defenseman into the boards face-first. The NHL’s Department of Player Safety reviewed the hit and saw no cause for action.
Dale Weise (suspended), Scott Laughton (knee), Michael Del Zotto (knee), Michael Raffl (abdominal pull) and Nick Schultz (healthy). 
Up next
The Flyers will be off on Wednesday. They are in the midst of six games in nine days and will host Arizona on Thursday at the Wells Fargo Center.