Couldn't Have Drawn It Better Myself
The stage is set for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. It’s Germany, Portugal, Ghana, and the United States.
So, on Friday the United States was dealt its worst case scenario, drawing what most of the futból world deems the “Group of Death”. So, the privileged members of Group G have all advanced to the knockout stage the last time around. So, the group contains in order, the No. 2 ranked team, a team with arguably the best player in the world, and a team that eliminated the U.S. from the last two tournaments. So what.
For those of you without a soccer pulse, or for those of you who may rely on FIFA 14 the video game for the extent of your soccer analysis and expertise, the U.S. already had an auspiciously slim chance at best to win the world cup. Yes, that chance just got even slimmer. But the Stars and Stripes, ranked 14th by FIFA, now has the chance to prove it can do more than just hang with the big teams. If the U.S. can take advantage of the added attention of its supreme underdog status, both those home and abroad might start taking soccer seriously.
Although the United States’ odds, which reportedly went from roughly 50 to 1, to 150 to 1 after the draw, may seem impossible, the U.S. still has a decent shot at moving on. Below is a preliminary evaluation for how they will fair against each of their opponents this summer in Brazil.
Germany is unquestionably and correctly, the favorite to emerge from the top of the group. However, the U.S. gets to play them last on June 26th, and they have one advantage. Head coach of the U.S. Men’s national team, Jurgen Klinnsman, not only played for Germany throughout his career, he is the former manager of the 2006 German national team. You can bet he knows a thing or two about Die Mannschaft. Current head coach for Germany, Joachim Low, was Klinnsman’s assistant during that period. At least in their matchup against Germany, the U.S. has the benefit of having the master, not the pupil.
Cristiano Ronaldo. Among soccer enthusiasts, he and Argentina’s Lionel Messi, sit alone atop the peak of world soccer. Portugal nearly missed out on their trip to Brazil. The only reason they did not, was Cristiano Ronaldo. Scoring a hat trick in their 4-2 playoff-victory over Sweden, Ronaldo reminded the world of his brilliance. However, the legend that is CR7, only has 47 goals in his 109 appearances for his national side. That’s far below his over a goal-a-game club average for Real Madrid. While it might not be fair to say he has struggled in international play, he has been less lethal. Soccer is a team sport. Without Ronaldo, Portugal is beatable. Therefore, all the U.S. has to do is keep him somewhat under control. Hey, it might not be probable, but it is possible.
Although Ghana has handed the U.S. their flight home in the past two World Cups, the U.S. definitely has the better team. Ranked 24th, Ghana’s star midfielders Michael Essien and Sulli Muntari, are aging. With them not what they once were, and U.S. side that is hungry for revenge, there seems to be no reason the United States cannot defeat them with 6 months preparation. One thing is for sure, if the U.S. is to have any chance of advancing, they must win their opener against Ghana on June 16.
To the casual observer, it may not seem like it, but soccer is growing in America. While it is still far from the most-watched NFL, the second most-played sport in the U.S. is undoubtedly improving in popularity. NBC is raking in the benefits of its new deal with the English Premier League, with ratings increasing 70% from last year, according to the league’s website. Furthermore, three media giants, FOX, ESPN, and NBC are all bidding for the media rights to the UEFA Champions League. The U.S. Women scored the most goals and finished as runner-ups in the 2011 World Cup. And although the MLS saw a dip in its ratings this past season, the recruitment of international superstars such as David Beckham and Thierry Henry, continue to breathe new life and notoriety into to the U.S. sports culture. Brighter days appear ahead for U.S. soccer. This summer in Brazil, the U.S. is poised to make its biggest leap yet.
If, and it’s a huge if, the Unites States somehow makes it into the knockout stage this summer, it will send a message to the rest of the soccer world, and to Americans themselves that U.S. soccer should not be ignored. Since, the U.S generally excels in every other major sport, maybe now is the time the U.S. finally excels in the world’s most popular sport.