USMNT Roundtable: Apocalypse, now?

Dammit (image: mlssoccer.com)

Dammit. (image: mlssoccer.com)

Is USMNT’s World Cup over before it begins? OTF’s roundtablers consider what it will take for the Yanks to be considered successful next summer…

So, that happened. USMNT is in the toughest second-toughest group for the 2014 World Cup. Klinsi’s CONCACAF champs are guaranteed three matches against top-tier opponents, and that could be all they get. Is this necessarily a bad thing?

The roundtable convenes to consider how World Cup “success” should be defined, now we know exactly who USMNT will need to beat to get to the tournament’s latter stages…

The face of a man who has to negotiate with American TV networks. (photo: soccerbyives,net)

The face of a man who has to negotiate with American TV networks. (photo: soccerbyives,net)

Caleb Morris

USMNT has, as many predicted, been drawn into the Group of Death (or more probably, one of the Groups of Death). Germany, Ghana, and Portugal are powerful opponents, but the pessimism I’ve seen surrounding the prospects for the US is both startling and disappointing. Twitter and Facebook have been ablaze with those who call themselves soccer fans saying “the US is screwed” and “we don’t even stand a chance.” I have one thing to say to these faux fans: “Start watching soccer, and you will realize the stupidity of everything you’re saying.”

Too many don’t realize how good a year the boys in red, white, and blue actually enjoyed. Sure, the competition wasn’t up to the level that we’ll see next summer, but the team can only play the matches it is given. We scheduled some elite competition — Germany, Belgium, and Bosnia — and beat two of those three teams. Granted, Germany brought what many consider a mix of B and C teams: again, we can only play the matches we are given.

Now onto what should be the main point of this roundtable: what we should expect from USMNT next summer. For me, it is not enough to say that if we qualify for the knockout stage, it should be considered a rousing success. If we do indeed qualify for the knockouts, there is no reason we can’t keep a run going.

By no means do I expect us to win the World Cup but a trip to the quarterfinals would be amazing. Best case scenario is a trip to the semis. Realistically, however, I think we’ll finish either 2nd or 3rd in the group stage, depending on how it all plays out.

It's going to come down to whichever team has the best Germans on the day, isn't it? (photo: mlssoccer.com/USAtoday.com)

It’s going to come down to whichever team has the best Germans on the day, isn’t it? (photo: mlssoccer.com/USAtoday.com)

Rob Thompson

If USMNT wants to be considered a big dog on the international stage, then it’s going to have to win some dog fights. The World Cup draw was not kind to the Stars and Stripes, who were placed with Ghana, Portugal, and Germany in Group G. The Yanks will surely have to perform at their highest level to advance out of this group: it has the highest average FIFA team ranking at 11.25 and is arguably the Group of Death.

On the positive side, this is the type of competition that could vault USMNT into the elite soccer nation conversation. There are some interesting story lines in Group G. The USA will get a revenge match to exorcise some demons against Ghana. The Black Stars have been the bogey team for the Stars and Stripes, eliminating them in the last two World Cups. 

Next, they will face Portugal in the sweltering heat of the Amazon. Portugal is considered a one-dimensional team, reliant on Christiano Ronaldo to provide the offensive fireworks. However, he is perhaps the best player on our planet. Finally, Die Klinsmannschaft faces the highly disciplined German team. This is Coach Klinsmann’s home country and the team he coached to third place in the 2006 World Cup.

Due to this tough group, I will temper my expectations and state my definition of a successful World Cup campaign for the Nats will be to advance to the second round. After that, anything can happen in the knockout stages. 

If USMNT gets out of the group, then it will most likely face the dark horse favorite of the tournament, Belgium. But Coach Klinsi will have this team well prepared and mentally confident. Let’s Go USA!

On the bright side, Brek Shea's comedy stylings have floored the Belgians in the past. (photo: soccerbyives.net)

On the bright side, Brek Shea’s comedy stylings have floored the Belgians in the past. (photo: soccerbyives.net)

T.J. Zaremba

To me, USMNT was already in a unique position, even before Friday’s draw in the “Group of Mutually Assured Destruction”. Making it out of the group stage could be considered both a successful run and meeting expectations at the same time. Prior to the draw, I felt USMNT is a good enough side to make it out of the group, no matter the opponents, but if they didn’t, it is not necessarily a colossal failure.

The draw did nothing more than reinforce my opinion: the Yanks should finish as one of the top two teams in Group G, but it is no failure if they don’t. Thanks to the depth of quality in this tournament, realistically a majority of the teams should share my expectations, but there are some fanbases — such as Mexico, England and France — who still believe getting out of the opening round is their birthright.  

In many ways, the tough draw did nothing more than set Klinsi’s side up for success. The second they faced their nightmare scenario with a difficult group and the worst possible travel distances and climates, the gloom and doom started. The bar lowered. It was declared USMNT would be lucky to get out of its group. 

However, this team has been down both roads before. The federation has continually scheduled difficult road friendlies against quality teams, preparing USMNT for the standard of play to be faced in 2014.  Between MLS and the CONCACAF qualifying stages, the travel distances and climates should also not be a problem. USMNT plays in tropical conditions in distant locales all the time during the qualification cycle and traveling cross-country during the MLS season is nothing unusual.

The bottom line: the Stars and Stripes face a stacked deck in the 2014 World Cup, but I believe they can handle it. Ultimately, I feel they should make it out of the group stage, but would not be surprised if they did not either.

The Group of Mutually Assured Destruction (photo: devioustheatre.com)

The Group of Mutually Assured Destruction (photo: devioustheatre.com)

****

Give us your $0.02 in the comments, or hunt down OTF’s Roundtablers on Twitter: @calebjmorris, @roblthom66, and @TJZaremba.

To join the next roundtable, contact OTF’s USMNT editor, Austin Fido, by email – austincfido@gmail.com – or @canetop.

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