Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Are we up for the challenge?

Ok, so the World Cup Draw was broadcast live a week and a half ago or so. ESPN's coverage here consisted mostly of Tommy Smith attempting to bring fellow broadcasters and former national team members back down to earth as they labeled the USA a "Contender" in the "Contender or Pretender" segment of the program.

As a columnist who's name I can't be bothered to remember or look up, recently wrote - the USA is the equivalent of a solid mid-major in the NCAA tourney right now (think Gonzaga about 5-6 years ago). No one will be surprised if we make a decent run in the tourney and pull some upsets, but the odds of us winning the whole thing are not high.

Well, the draw is done, and we are in (arguably) the second hardest group along with Italy, Czech Republic, and Ghana. As an added bonus, the two teams that come out of the group get second round games with Brazil's group - so odds are if you finish second your prize is a date with the defending champs.

I'll make a couple comments on the groups, but if you want the whole schedule/break-out, download your very own wallchart here - http://soccernet.espn.go.com/worldcup/wallchart?cc=5901.

Group A - On paper the hosts get an easy advance to the second round, but their team can be beat, especially if Ballack is injured/suspended. However look for the home crowd to carry them through.

Group B - England vs Sweden. Again. Minnows Trinidad have a tough road in this group.

Group C - The Group of Death - Argentina vs Netherlands could be the match of the first round.

Group D - Portugal vs Angola - a bit of bad blood in this one, the last time they played the game was called early because of violence.

Group E - USA faces a stiff challenge - more on this in a sec.

Group F - battle for second place behind Brazil, Australia is in for the first time in ages.

Group G - France vs Switzerland is a rematch from qualifying. Don't be surprised to see South Korea make another run this time around.

Group H - Spain again on paper with an easy group. Sheva makes his first WC appearance with Ukraine.

Back to the USA. I'm sick of hearing people complaining about the difficult draw. These same people were clamoring for us to get a #1 seed a few weeks ago. Are we one of the top eight teams in the world? Or are we dependent on a favorable schedule to advance in the tourney? Which is it?

What it is (IMO) is a great measuring stick - think about it - 1990 the USA makes the WC for the first time in 40-50 years. We draw Czech, then Italy, then Austria, losing 5-1, 1-0, and 2-1 respectively. Fast forward sixteen years, almost an identical draw (Czech, then Italy, then Ghana), but our team has improved astronomically (no offense to the players in 1990) in that timeframe. With dozens of players overseas, Reyna making the best 11 in the 2002 tourney, Friedel as one of the top 2-3 keepers in the premier League over first half of the decade, Beasely playing in the CL final with PSV, the list goes on. Plus Arena has 2-3 guys to choose from at almost every position on the field.

This draw is our chance to show exactly how far we have come and prove to FIFA that we belong among the seeds for South Africa 2010 and to the world that our top 10 ranking is for real. Either way though, I'm pumped for the games, our dvr will be getting a MAJOR workout in June/July.


No comments: