The United States qualified for the World Cup months ago. Friday, it will find out its fate.
It could be grim for the Americans, who, like the rest of the world, will be watching the World Cup Draw on Friday (10:30 a.m. on ESPN) live from Brazil. The draw will reveal the pairings for the 32 nations that qualified for the group stage next summer.
There will be a watch party in the Members Club at Sporting Park. Doors open at 10 a.m. The event, which is free, will be first come, first served due to limited capacity. Select members of the two MLS Cup final teams as well as U.S. national team players will be in attendance.
As for the draw, it can be like some soccer rules: a little confusing if you haven’t been paying close attention.
It works like a lottery, with the 32 qualified teams spread over four pots. Only eight teams will be seeded for this tournament: Hosts Brazil, Argentina, Belgium, Colombia, Germany, reigning champion Spain, Switzerland and Uruguay. Those teams are in “Pot 1.”
After that, the remaining pots are separated geographically to keep teams from the same federation from meeting in the group stage — with the exception of one group that will feature two European teams.
“Pot 2” features the two remaining South American teams, Chile and Ecuador, and African qualifiers Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria.
The U.S. will be in “Pot 3” with fellow CONCACAF teams Costa Rica, Honduras and Mexico, as well as Asian qualifiers Australia, Iran, Japan and South Korea.
“Pot 4” will feature Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, England, France, Greece, Italy, The Netherlands, Portugal and Russia. Because of the uneven number, one team will be randomly drawn into a group with one of the four seeded South American teams (Brazil, Argentina, Colombia or Uruguay).
A team from each pot will be selected to create eight four-team groups. Each team plays three group-stage games, with the top two teams in each group then advancing to the round of 16. From there, the World Cup becomes single-elimination.
What does all of this mean for the United States? Well, it’s not great.
The best-case scenario for the Americans would be drawing Switzerland, seen by many as the weakest-seeded team in the tournament, an African team that isn’t Ghana (a World Cup bogeyman for the U.S.) and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The worst case? Thanks to the extra European team, it could mean a nightmare scenario of a “Group of Death” featuring Brazil, the Netherlands and Portugal. Or a “going home early for sure” grouping with Spain, Italy and Ghana.
No matter the draw, it’s always going to be an uphill battle in the World Cup. Since 1994, the United States has won just four World Cup games.
In 2010, the U.S. reached the round of 16 before losing to Ghana in extra time. The most successful run for the Americans was in 2002, when they reached the quarterfinals and lost to eventual runner-up Germany, 1-0.