Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.
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The USA knew they wouldn't have an easy time at next summer's World Cup in Brazil, but Friday's draw did them no favors whatsoever.
The Americans were drawn in Group G with Germany, Ghana, and Portugal, arguably the most difficult group of the eight. They were also drawn in the worst possible spot in the tournament for travel, and will have to journey nearly 9,000 miles between the three games - including a game in the rain forest in Manaus, in the north of the country.
Former USA midfielder and current Minnesota United head coach Manny Lagos summed up the draw, from an American perspective. "I'm like everybody else," he said. "It's not ideal."
The USA were not one of the eight seeded teams in the event, meaning that they were guaranteed to be drawn against one of the top eight seeds, one team from Africa or South America, and one team from the remaining European teams. Unfortunately for the Americans, they drew one of the best teams from each of those three categories.
Lagos wasn't willing to call it the worst possible draw for the USA, noting that they were lucky to avoid the Netherlands from the group of European teams, but his assessment - not the worst possible, but "up there" - was the same as many fans' reactions.
ESPN, using its "Soccer Power Index" rankings, gave the Americans just under a 40% chance of finishing first or second in their group and qualifying for the knockout round. Germany was given a 91% chance, with Portugal just ahead of the USA at 40% and Ghana at 28%.
The Americans have a recent history with each of these teams at the World Cup. Most famously, they were knocked out of the tournament by Ghana in both 2006 and 2010, losing both times in their final game of the tournament against the Africans. They lost to Germany in the 2002 quarterfinals, 1-0, despite outplaying the Germans for long stretches of the game and having a clear penalty kick denied them in the second half. In the same tournament, though, they beat Portugal 3-2 in their opening match, one of the upsets of the tournament.
Local USMNT expert Dana Wessel, contrary to the negative reactions from most, said via email that he was optimistic about the draw. "It isn't nearly as bad as it looks," he wrote.
Wessel pointed out that, despite the star power of Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal struggled to get through an easy qualifying group to make it to the World Cup. He also noted that the USA outplayed Ghana in both losses, and that if you had to pick one team's coach to be able to break down Germany, it would be former German coach and star Jurgen Klinsmann, America's manager.
"The people freaking out on social media over this group are stuck in 1998," he wrote. "People do realize we are good at soccer, right? We are coming off our best year in federation history, and I guarantee you supporters of Portugal and Ghana were not happy when they saw themselves land with the United States."
The USA's opening match will be against Ghana on June 16; they play Portugal next, in the rainforest on June 22, and finish with Germany on June 26.
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