Yes, this is a hard group.
Really, it couldn’t have been more difficult. The Americans open the tournament against Ghana, who eliminated the U.S. in the last two World Cups, and then face two of Europe’s best teams in Portugal (in the Amazon rainforest) and Germany (who the U.S. lost to in the 1998 and 2002 World Cups).
Compounding the task of advancing to the second round is the ridiculous amount of travel facing the United States. The Americans will have logged nearly 9,000 miles after they complete group play. To recap: The U.S. will play the team that has ended their last two World Cup runs, one of the best players in the World, and a three-time World Cup champion.
In 20 years, there hasn’t been a harder Group of Death. But this is why it’s going to be OK.
The U.S. is fitter than any other team on earth.
There isn’t a team better suited to handle the rigors of travel and less-than-ideal conditions. For all the things the United States has lacked in the past, it has always been one of the fittest teams on the planet. No one wants to play in a rainforest, but if you do, the longer you can keep up the pressure the better you will be. These games won’t be won in the first 15 minutes, but they very well could be lost in the final 15. Who is going to be able to keep running on empty in the stifling jungle? Bet on the U.S.
Jurgen Klinsmann has made the roster deeper than ever before.
The lack of depth has plagued the U.S. for decades. They simply didn’t have the quality to last an entire month in 2010. The playmakers ran out of gas, and the team limped into its second round game against Ghana. That won’t be the case this year. The U.S. has a bench capable of maintaining that quality throughout the group stage. That quality will be especially important heading into the final match against Germany.
The U.S. is resilient.
Advancing out of the group stage has nothing to do with being the best team and everything to do with being the most consistent team. The U.S. has never won two matches in group play, and yet advanced out of their group in two of the last three World Cups. The 2010 Group of Death featured Brazil, North Korea, Ivory Coast, and Portugal playing some of the most uninspired, conservative soccer in recent memory. Brazil snatched first in that group with two wins and a draw, while Portugal took second with a win and two draws.
If the U.S. is able to knock off Ghana to start the tournament, they control their own destiny. A strong defensive shape, strong set pieces, and a scrappy mentality have served the Americans well in the past. It will again.
The U.S. is better.
The quality overall is simply better. This is a team that can survive without players who they leaned on heavily in years past, like Landon Donovan. If the U.S. drew this group in 2002, 2006, or 2010, it would have been too much to overcome. Not anymore, and not with this talent pool. The 2014 World Cup should be an opportunity for players like Graham Zusi and Omar Gonzalez to shine, and set into motion a new generation of American soccer.
It’s time to grow up.
American soccer has come a long way since 1990, and every World Cup, U.S. fans cross their fingers for a favorable draw. At some point, it’s time to buck up and embrace the challenge. When Paul Caliguiri hit the shot heard round the world against Trinidad in 1989, he launched U.S. soccer into a stratosphere it had never encountered. The ’90s saw the founding of Major League Soccer and the United States’ first appearance in the knockout stage since 1930.
That revolution started with a team in 1989 facing what seemed to be insurmountable odds.
Kind of like now.