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How the Draw Might Have Gone for the U.S.

December 1st, 2017 · 2 Comments · Fifa, Football, Landon Donovan, World Cup

The World Cup without the U.S. national team?

Those who consider it a disastrous setback for soccer in America are badly mistaken.

It’s 2017, not 1998! Soccer in the U.S., at the club level, is in fine shape and trending upward.

If anything, sitting out Russia 2018 can serve as a wake-up call for the national team, which has been stuck in a sort of rut for a decade,

But, if you just can’t look at the World Cup draw without a red-white-and-blue flag on it (for the first time since 1990) …

Let’s look at how the Yanks might have fared, in the draw, had they qualified by 1) finishing third (sted Panama) in the Concacaf hexagonal or 2) made the tournament by defeating Australia in the inter-confederation playoffs.

How excited or daunted would U.S. fans be?

Scenario 1: U.S. goes in as the No. 3 qualifier from Concacaf, instead of Panama. The ping-pong ball that came out for Panama now reads “USA”.

They would be in Group G, with Belgium, England and Tunisia.

Not an easy group, by any means. Bruce Arena’s Yanks would need to beat one of two European teams ranked in the top 12 in the world, Belgium or England, if they expect to get out of the group. (Each of which, by the way, I listed among the seven teams that can realistically win Russia 2018).

The Yanks would open versus Belgium on June 18 at Sochi, site of the 2014 Winter Olympics and, get this: Kickoff would be at 7 a.m. PDT (10 a.m. EDT). A big chunk of you would have to do some weird scheduling to see any of the U.S. games, starting with this one.

Belgium is good, ranked No. 5 in the world and with lots of players better than anyone on the U.S. team, including Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku. It was Belgium who knocked out the U.S. in the round of 16 in the round of 16 in 2014 and it was Belgium goalie Thibaut Courtois who scared Chris Wondolowski into skying over the bar this great opportunity in the second of three minutes of added time. I have written, of course, that the sub there at forward should have been Landon Donovan, but you may recall U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann had a vendetta against Landon for taking time off for a mental health break in 2013. The nerve of that guy. Anyway, Belgium won 2-1 in extra time, and went to the quarterfinals.

Game 2 would be the U.S. versus England in Nizhni Novgorod, and that one would kick off at 4 a.m. (!) PDT on June 24. The U.S. drew with England in the 2010 World Cup, thanks to a horrible mistake by the English keeper that allowed Clint Dempsey’s harmless shot to go in the goal, but the current U.S. team would be hard pressed to take a point from what appears to be the best English World Cup team since 2006. Harry Kane, Dele Ali, Jamie Varde, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Chris Smalling, et al.

Game 3 would be versus Tunisia at 10 a.m. PDT on June 28 in Saransk, the capital of Moldova. (Good luck getting to that one, Sam’s Army.) The U.S. got Tunisia in the third match of the 2010 World Cup,when Landon Donovan (that guy again!) tapped in the winning goal after the 4-on-2 jailbreak in the final minutes. Tunisia is ranked No. 28, and is not a bad side.

In this case, the U.S. very likely would already be eliminated, losing the first two matches.

Point being, in this take-Panama’s-place scenario, the U.S. realistically would be lucky to score two points and certainly could go home with none — for the first time since the 1990 World Cup.

–Scenario 2: The U.S. wins a playoff with Australia to reach Russia 2018 and slots in to Oz’s place in Group C — with France, Peru and Denmark.

This is not as daunting a group as Group G, but it isn’t easy, either. Not for this U.S. team.

The Americans would open against France on June 16 in Kazan, with kickoff at 2 a.m. PDT and 5 a.m. EDT. (Remembered ever after as “the game no one in the U.S. saw live”.) France is ranked No. 7 in the world but has a glut of talent at the moment, and would out-man the Yanks pretty much everywhere on the pitch, starting with Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe, Anthony Martial, Alexandre Lacazette N’Golo Kante … well, I’m pretty sure France’s second 11 would beat the U.S. 2-0, at minimum.

Game 2 would be versus Denmark at 6 a.m. PDT on June 21 in Samara, on the Volga River. Denmark is ranked No. 19 in the world, but it is the sort of physically limited European team that the U.S. often has been able to hang with. Denmark does have a couple of very good players in keeper Kasper Schmeichel and winger Christian Ericksen, and has a bunch of guys playing for prominent European clubs. The Yanks would have a shot here, but that would not be the way to bet.

Game 3 would pit the U.S. against Peru on June 26 at Sochi. Kickoff at 6 a.m. PDT, 9 a.m. EDT. If the Yanks still had a chance to finish in the top two of the group and go on to the round of 16 — a big “if” — this could be close. Peru is ranked 10 in the world, but that may be a bit high, given that the Peruvians play at altitude, in South America qualifying, and can beat some of that continent’s leading sides in the thin air (which pumps up their ranking). Sochi is at sea level. Peru will be making its first World Cup appearance since 1982, and doesn’t have a lot of names that jump off the team sheet, but Peru would be expected to beat Christian Pulisic & Co. behind a couple of decent forwards, Jefferson Farfan and Andre Carrillo of English club Watford.

So, in this Oz Variant the U.S. might have taken a point from Denmark and could possibly advance to the knockout round with a victory over Peru (and four points). Realistically, though, Denmark and Peru will have expected to take all three points from the Yanks and the Americans very likely would come home with maybe one point.

This was never going to be an easy World Cup for the United States. The talent is thin, at the moment, and teams do not win World Cup matches with exactly one player (Pulisic) that would concern any of their Group C opponents.

We can make a case that sitting out the 2018 World Cup and pushing forward with a plan to be more competitive for Qatar 2022 would be a less painful experience or American fans than seeing a weak team going to Russia and getting kicked around.

It wasn’t their time. It wasn’t in the stars. This U.S. team, nurtured by the divisive and clueless Klinsmann, only semi-revived by Bruce Arena, represented a dip in U.S. fortunes, but the sort of dip that happens, eventually, to just about every national team in the world.

Instead, U.S. fans can settle on a foreign team they would like to back, and watch the tournament on delayed broadcasts, not really worrying too much about how much of any of it turns out — other than seeing Russia and Iran exit early.



2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Doug // Dec 2, 2017 at 2:54 PM

    Russia has about the easiest draw ever. Have to agree that on their recent form it would take a miracle for the current U.S. team to advance out of either group.

  • 2 Gene Hiigel // Dec 2, 2017 at 8:04 PM

    As to Peru, the national team plays all of its qualifiers at the Estadio Nacional in Lima, which is all of 450 feet above sea level (it is about 35 miles from the Pacific coast). Lima has 10 million people and the only other city in Peru with a population of 1,000,000 is Arequipa (7,000 feet above sea level). I assume most of Peru’s players play in Lima and close to sea level, so there is no real advantage to altitude for them.

    Colombia is somewhat similar. They play their qualifiers in Baranquilla at sea level on the Caribbean instead of at 8,600 feet in Bogota. Baranquilla has 2.7 million people and Bogota 10.2 million, but I assume there is no real advantage to playing at altitude if your players (and especially James Rodriguez) need to acclimatize.

    Now Bolivia, of course, plays in La Paz at 11,900 feet, but La Paz is the largest city. Ecuador plays in Quito at 11,000 feet, and Quito is the capital and is about the same size as Guayaquil on the Pacific Coast, so I assume they go for the altitude (and better climate for soccer).

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