OT: USMNT Is Going To Get Boned On Friday

Submitted by Brian on December 2nd, 2009 at 1:42 PM

Why? Because it's the World Cup. Leave me alone.

Landon Donovan in the USA's new home kit. bone

The World Cup draw is Friday, and FIFA has finally ditched its really unbelievably complicated seeding scheme for straight FIFA rankings, which screw you Sepp Blatter. In 2006 the USA would have received a seed if they'd gone with that.

Anyway, here's a hypothetically totally fair draw with each team given a seed corresponding to its FIFA ranking, with the team's Soccer Power Index (a Nate Silver joint) in parens afterwards:

Seed Team A SPI Seed Team B SPI Seed Team C SPI Seed Team D SPI Avg
1 Spain 2 16 Switzerland 31 17 Uruguay 10 32 South Africa 65 32.5
2 Brazil 1 15 Chile 8 18 Serbia 13 31 North Korea 92 39
3 Holland 4 14 Ivory Coast 9 19 Australia 22 30 New Zealand 91 38.5
4 Italy 12 13 Mexico 19 20 Nigeria 33 29 South Korea 42 26
5 Portugal 7 12 USA 16 21 Denmark 20 28 Japan 35 24
6 Germany 6 11 Greece 34 22 Algeria 46 27 Honduras 25 21.25
7 France 11 10 Cameroon 15 23 Paraguay 18 26 Ghana 37 24
8 Argentina 5 9 England 3 24 Slovenia 36 25 Slovakia 50 27

The USA is in the second-worst group but even that group seems far more doable and  balanced than what they got in '06 and what they're staring down on Friday. The Silver average reveals everyone's main desire: get drawn in the same group as South Africa, New Zealand, and/or North Korea. Those teams are all horrendous relative to the field.

Unfortunately, That's not happening unless the USA pulls the 1-in-8 longshot and slips into the South Africa group:

Pot 1 will consist of the eight seeded teams and will be drawn into groups at the outset of the Friday's event.

Pot 2 consists of CONCACAF, Asia and Oceania and will be drawn, next with no restrictions as to where those eight teams can be drawn.

The USA cannot draw in with Australia, North Korea, New Zealand, or South Korea, the #19, 28, 29, 30, and 31 teams in the tournament according to FIFA.  Nor can they get in with #27 Honduras, but we knew that already. In sum: YAY. There is one team in its pot that the US wouldn't want to get drawn with: Mexico. The other six teams are the weakest in the field with the exception of Australia. The CONCACAF powers are worse off than any other team with a chance of advancing to the second round.

Why don't the World Cup doyens do it like this anyway? There's only one group that has an overload of one federation—Group 8 has three UEFA teams—and that can be fixed by flipping Ghana and Slovakia. If you want to separate Chile and Brazil you can just flip Chile with the Ivory Coast. You get geographical dispersion, seriously reduced chances at Groups of Death, and a fairer tournament all around.


Yinka Double Dare

December 2nd, 2009 at 1:59 PM ^

I hold out hope that we get that 1 in 8 chance of being in South Africa's group, but know we're going to end up in a group with Netherlands, France and Ivory Coast or something only slightly less ridiculous.

I will jump with glee if we end up in a group of, say, South Africa, the Diego Forlans (Uruguay), and European S-country ending in -ia (ideally not Serbia). That's a group we can advance out of.


December 2nd, 2009 at 2:10 PM ^

France, Algeria, and North Korea would just about make the greatest group ever.

The France-Algeria game would be on a knife's edge.

The US - North Korea game would be awesome.


December 2nd, 2009 at 2:26 PM ^

Love the World Cup talk, hopefully it will continue throughout the event itself.

Yeah, the US gets screwed being in the same "pot" as Asia. In the end though, who knows which US team will show up. The US team that played one of the best games I have ever seen a US soccer team play against Spain in the Confed Cup, or the team that gave up two goals in the first 11 minutes at Costa Rica (or the first two games of the Confed Cup lol). The hope for Friday is to avoid this year's "Group of Death". Everything else comes down to which American team shows up.


December 2nd, 2009 at 2:27 PM ^

The World Cup draw is Friday, and FIFA has finally ditched its really unbelievably complicated seeding scheme for straight FIFA rankings, which screw you Sepp Blatter. In 2006 the USA would have received a seed if they'd gone with that.

So to be clear, the last three World Cup draws are basically giant screw yous to U.S. soccer fans. Got it.


December 2nd, 2009 at 2:35 PM ^

I don't know. While it sucks that we are in the same pot as all the weaker qualifying teams, it's kinda karma. It's not like we're France or Portugal and are playing extra legs just to qualify. Given our easy (in comparison to Europe) road to qualification, it doesn't seem preposterous that we may not get the best draw.

Plus, in the future, there's always the possibility to get one of the top eight seeds. If we were one of those top eight, then it we'd be in the first pot (if I'm interpreting correctly), and thus this complaint is rendered moot.


December 2nd, 2009 at 6:58 PM ^

I'm not sure that you've noticed but UEFA has thrice the number of teams that CONCACAF has in the tournament. They are more than compensated for their tougher qualification road. And France had to go through the murderer's row of Serbia, Austria, Faroe Islands, Romania, and Lithuania to qualify, but barely made it.

Not to say that the US should be seeded or anything, but FIFA's seeding system is heavily weighted towards results of a tournament that happened four years ago, which is why Portugal, Argentina and France are seeded despite barely qualifying and England (9-0-1) is not.

Yinka Double Dare

December 2nd, 2009 at 7:24 PM ^

Actually, this year FIFA threw their old seeding method out the window without saying anything beforehand (sorta how they decided out of nowhere to seed the UEFA playoff teams with no prior notice) and just used the October 2009 FIFA rankings, meaning England and Netherlands are seeded while France and Portugal are not.

Don't worry though, if we're in position for one of the last seeds in the FIFA rankings before the 2014 draw, they'll go back to the old rules to make sure that the 2006 World Cup counts and we get screwed out of a seed.


December 2nd, 2009 at 9:02 PM ^

The best bet for the US getting a seed is if they host the tournament in 2018 or 2022, which gets decided next month. If England gets to host one of those, I'm calling it right now that the US doesn't get out of the first round. They play like absolute crap in Europe, kind of like Brazil (Bob Bradley wishes!).


December 2nd, 2009 at 2:49 PM ^

FIFA, like the NBA, knows which side its bread is buttered on. Hmm, do we want 50 million Frenchmen or 5 million Irish paying attention to the World Cup? FIFA's got its own versions of Lakers/Celtics it wants to make sure gets top billing.

Dream draw: South Africa, Chile, Slovenia

Draw of ass-rapery: Brazil, Ivory Coast, Portugal


December 2nd, 2009 at 3:34 PM ^

Chile stormed through qualifying (nearly overtook Brazil at the end), Uruguay needed the playoff against Costa Rica. Unless there's a difference in styles that makes Chile a better matchup, Uruguay's probably the weakest South American team in the pool (and we can't get another African team if we get South Africa).

Argentina-Ghana-Slovakia would be pretty good too. The Argentine squad has really been underachieving of late and aren't playing anywhere near the level of their current ranking.


December 2nd, 2009 at 6:46 PM ^

I'd definitely prefer Chile to Uruguay. South America is weird with their crazy home field advantages and insane fans. On a neutral pitch I think Uruguay are the better side and they have more recognizable names (Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez, etc).

With Maradona at the helm I wouldn't mind Argentina either, but the key is going to be avoiding France/Portugal out of the 4th pot and Ivory Coast/Ghana out of the 3rd pot.


December 2nd, 2009 at 8:58 PM ^

It matters less which team we draw from Pot 1 (aside from South Africa) than whether or not we draw France/Portugal or Ivory Coast Ghana. I like our chances in a group that has any of the top 7, but neither of those four! With the Confed Cup boost, I would hope to draw one of the less-experienced European teams and one of the weaker South American teams, who don't play well off their own continent.


December 2nd, 2009 at 2:58 PM ^

The US still has just as much chance as anyone of getting South Africa right? I feel like that's really all we can hope for, any of the other seven seeded teams are pretty much equally deadly now that France isn't going to be in the seeded pot. The African teams and the South American teams going in the same pot is unfortunate but fair, really.

Yinka Double Dare

December 2nd, 2009 at 3:08 PM ^

Yep, same chance as anyone.

I put the order of who we'd prefer of the seeds like this:

South Africa (obviously the best case)
Argentina (presuming Maradona is still "coaching" the team into the ground)
Germany (not an awful matchup and their presumptive starting keeper committed suicide last month)
Italy (proven we can play with them and maybe get a draw out of the game)

Obviously, none of the non-South Africa teams will be easy, but I definitely think Argentina can be had due to awful coaching and our matchups with Germany and Italy are not horrible. You could switch England and the Netherlands on the list, I don't like us against either of them. And while we played with Brazil and Spain earlier this year, I don't think that lightning will strike twice. But if we're grouped with them, at least our guys should have some confidence from the Confed Cup that they belong on the same field.


December 2nd, 2009 at 3:14 PM ^

I don't think that is a terrible draw. We beat Portugal in the opening round in South Korea, played Denmark well 2 weeks ago (except for about 20 minutes) without our best MLS players, and we can handle Japan if we play well.

Granted, my whole comment is hinging on the "if we play well" part, but I think this is a much better draw than what will most likely happen


December 2nd, 2009 at 3:15 PM ^

No two teams from the same confederation can be drawn together regardless of pot, with the exception of UEFA and a maximum of 2 per group. Several of the groups in the OP are impossible given that restricition.

Also, the draws are done "randomly" (one team from each pot per group) once the regional restrictions are accounted for. The random nature of the draw is likely true, although many people (including myself from time to time) can see how some situation was created for FIFA's benefit and to screw most everyone else.

Based on the restricitions, arguably the best group we could hope for is USA, South Africa,Slovenia, and Paraguay. Drawing England as our seeded team would be the next best option since they are a step down from the rest (And Fabio Capello has stated his fear of our team, fwiw)


December 2nd, 2009 at 3:25 PM ^

Pot 1: South Africa, Brazil, Spain, Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Argentina and England.
Pot 2: Australia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, New Zealand, Honduras, Mexico and USA.
Pot 3: Algeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay.
Pot 4: Denmark, France, Greece, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland.

Seeds based on the Oct FIFA rankings, not the current ones (probably to screw France quietly)

info via Soccer Insider @ the Wahington Post

Roberto Mancini

December 2nd, 2009 at 4:16 PM ^

aren't high for either teams.

USA lost their most consistent striker and best defender, in a tournament which requires both. Landon Donovan & Clint Dempsey can only get you so far.

Mexico will probably just advance to the round of sixteen, but bow out in that round, like they always do.


December 2nd, 2009 at 4:06 PM ^

No? thats cool, we dont need your sport anyway, we have the freaking Olympics in Feb, screw you FIFA.

And just so yeah know, FIFA sounds like the name of a cross dressing male prostitute! Thats right, I said it!


December 2nd, 2009 at 4:24 PM ^

I know that MGoBlog might not be the proper forum for it, but do you have any plans to do WC 2010 coverage? I know I would be interested in your takes.

MI Expat NY

December 2nd, 2009 at 4:45 PM ^

I thought South Africa was given a seed in order to increase their chances of making it out of pool play? Isn't that the greater benefit to being in their group. Yeah, you get one of the three worst teams, but you also avoid any of the top seven.

Or did I make this up?


December 2nd, 2009 at 6:11 PM ^

Which is why, other than the seeded pot, if you're one of the top teams in any other pot you're getting screwed. Portugal and France are probably the best of the European pot--they don't have the opportunity to draw a European minnow. Same with the United States and South Korea (which I think is comparable), as they can't draw the CONCACAF or Asian teams.

All of that being said, it's not like the USMNT has a history of being good in this tournament. The team is 3-12-3 since 1990 in World Cup play. Are we really the 12th seed of 32 teams in this hypothetical draw? That seems extremely generous.


December 2nd, 2009 at 6:36 PM ^

The USMNT has improved greatly in the last decade or so, and being the top of a relatively weak confederation results in us getting ludicrous draws more often. Our showing in recent tournaments has generally been better (2-2-1 in '02, 0-2-1 in '06 but that with Larrionda sending off two of our players against Italy for no apparent reason and getting them suspended for the Ghana match as well as a result).


December 2nd, 2009 at 7:48 PM ^

... is not the least bit surprising, and it speaks volumes about the shadiness of FIFA.

On the plus side, that means there's really only one disaster squad to draw from Pot 4 - France is going to be on the receiving end of shitty call after shitty call thanks to how they got here, so I'm only really worried about drawing Portugal.


December 2nd, 2009 at 7:45 PM ^

Yes being at the top of CONCACAF hurts. It hurt Mexico when they were in that position. It hurts South Korea as well. It's going to hurt Portugal and France this year also. That's life.

The refs weren't responsible for the 0-2-1 play in 2006. We were dogmeat for all but the Italy match and had one non-own goal in 270 minutes of action. The draw didn't help, but it didn't help Ghana either and they took care of business.

I agree that we are better than we were in 1990. I don't think we're as good as we were in 2002. In retrospect that was a pretty special team.

And I do ask, does anyone think we're the 12th best unit in this tournament? I think that's a good 6-8 places too high.


December 2nd, 2009 at 10:44 PM ^

I think the fact that the 2002 World Cup was not in Europe is really underrated. I'm of the belief that most European teams get a real boost when playing in Europe and I think we'll see the non-Euro teams have better results like they did in 2002 down in South Africa. So maybe it wasn't that the US was better in 2002 or worse in 2006 but that the Euro teams played better in 2006 than they did in 2002.

I agree that US is overrated in the rankings. Without really looking at things I'd say we'd be the 3rd/4th best team in Africa, 5th/6th in South America, and anywhere from 1st to 3rd in Asia. I think those are realistic rankings, not taking into account injuries and stuff like that.


December 2nd, 2009 at 4:55 PM ^

Why not have every country play a 12 game schedule; then use a combination of human pollsters ( media types and coaches ) and computer rankings ( just W-L, no margin of victory ) to determine which two countries should play for The World Cup. Other countries could be paired in interesting matches, as long as they finished at 6-6 or better.


December 2nd, 2009 at 6:24 PM ^

In the NCAA tourney, the difference between being a 1 seed or a 2 is pretty small - you still have a virtual walkover in game 1, a slightly tougher game in the second round but one you're still a heavy favorite in, and by the time the you hit the third round everybody left is pretty good and the draw isn't a huge factor short of dodging a juggernaut like UNC last year as long as possible.

Here, though, the difference between 8th and 9th is enormous. Say we had gotten to top 8 somehow in place of Argentina, and Costa Rica had defeated Uruguay (so the pods still line up with the same confederation groupings). We could still end up with a hellish group (say, Ivory Coast and Portugal from the latter two pods), but in the absolute worst case our fourth team would be Australia. There's no possible draw in that case where we wouldn't at least have a realistic chance of advancing by scratching out a result against one of the two heavyweights, and most draws would have us a favorite to advance (we'd only need one of the latter two pods to come up with a weaker side instead of both).