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]

Flyers reveal 2017 Stadium Series jerseys

Flyers reveal 2017 Stadium Series jerseys

Back in black.

The Flyers on Saturday morning revealed their 2017 Stadium Series jerseys for their Feb. 25 outdoor game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Heinz Field.

With their 50th anniversary sweaters resembling their current away jerseys with gold outlining throughout, the Flyers have gone back to black and orange for the outdoor game.

The jersey is almost all black, with an orange name plate and an orange elbow stripe. Orange is sprinkled throughout the jersey.

In addition to the outdoor game, the Flyers will also wear the jersey against the Penguins on March 15 at the Wells Fargo Center, a Wednesday Night Rivalry game.

Pittsburgh unveiled its Stadium Series jersey back on Nov. 25, an all gold uniform in celebration of its 50th season.

Best of NBA: Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook's 7th straight triple-double

Best of NBA: Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook's 7th straight triple-double

OKLAHOMA CITY -- James Harden scored 21 points, and the Houston Rockets overcame Russell Westbrook's seventh consecutive triple-double to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 102-99 on Friday night.

Harden also had 12 assists and nine rebounds to help the Rockets win their fifth straight. Houston withstood Harden's 6-for-23 shooting effort.

Westbrook finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. He has the longest triple-double streak since Michael Jordan had seven straight in 1989. The most in a row is nine by Philadelphia's Wilt Chamberlain in March 1968.

It was Westbrook's 12th triple-double this season and the 49th of his career. He is the NBA's active leader in the category and ranks sixth all-time.

The Thunder had won the previous six games during Westbrook's triple-double binge (see full story).

James moves into 9th on scoring list as Cavs top Heat
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James scored 27 points to move into ninth place on the NBA scoring list, and the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Miami Heat 114-84 on Friday night.

James passed Elvin Hayes on a driving layup with 6:58 remaining and has 27,315 career points. The four-time MVP was removed about a minute later and received a loud ovation from the Cleveland crowd.

Kevin Love, a game-time decision because of back spasms, scored a team-high 28 points and had 15 rebounds for the Cavaliers. He missed the morning shootaround but was in the lineup after warming up on the court about an hour before tip-off.

Kyrie Irving added 23 points for the Cavs, who have won three straight after losing three in a row.

Derrick Williams scored 17 points to lead the short-handed Heat, who have lost four straight (see full story). 

Schroder has career-high 33, Hawks rally past Bucks
MILWAUKEE -- Dennis Schroder scored a career-high 33 points and the Atlanta Hawks rallied from 20 down in the second half to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks 114-110 on Friday night.

Paul Millsap had 23 points and 14 rebounds for Atlanta. Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 18.

The Hawks, who ended a seven-game losing streak Wednesday with a win over Miami, trailed by 20 at halftime. A 40-point third quarter put them back in the game.

Jabari Parker scored 27 for Milwaukee. Giannis Antetokounmpo, in foul trouble throughout the game, had 14.

Atlanta pulled ahead 105-103 on Kyle Korver's jumper with 3:15 remaining, giving the Hawks their first lead since early in the game (see full story).