A small piece of paper unraveled on a big screen inside the Sporting Park Members Club, its words holding the World Cup fate of the United States men’s national soccer team.
As the draw came into focus — essentially placing the US in the dreaded “Group of Death” for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil — a crowd gathered inside let out a loud, long groan.
Not Matt Besler.
A fixture in the US lineup over the past year, Besler turned toward the crowd, then national team teammates Graham Zusi and Omar Gonzalez.
He clapped. He smiled. He even laughed.
“It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be exciting,” said Besler, a left center back for Sporting Kansas City. “As a player, you want to play the best teams, and you want to play the best players.”
He got his wish.
The United States was drawn into Group G on Friday morning, a fearsome foursome that includes Germany, Portugal and World Cup nemesis Ghana.
The United States will open play June 16 with a match against Ghana, a team that eliminated the Americans in 2010 and 2006.
“Maybe it’s our opportunity to get them back,” midfielder Clint Dempsey said. “We’re due a win.”
The U.S. team will travel an estimated 9,000 miles during its time in Brazil.
Six days after facing Ghana, it will face Portugal on June 22. It will wrap up group play with a match against Germany — the group’s top seed — on June 26. That match pits US coach Juergen Klinsmann against his own country, whom he coached to a third-place finish in the 2006 World Cup.
“I think if we play our best ball, we can get out of the group,” Dempsey said. “... That’s what the World Cup is all about — playing the best teams. We have a good group as far as that’s concerned.”
Asked which of the three teams he is looking forward to playing, Sporting KC and national team midfielder Graham Zusi replied, “All of them. Are you kidding me? It’s the World Cup.”
Many have labeled Group G as the most competitive of the eight groups, but it’s far from the only difficult draw. The Group D includes Uruguay, Italy, England and Costa Rica.
Had they been drawn one spot later, the United States would have been slotted into a much-more preferred group that now includes Belgium, Algeria, Russia and South Korea. Hence the groan from a crowd that made up a watch party Friday at Sporting Park.
“I actually think it’s better than it’s all tough teams,” said Brad Evans, a national team member and midfielder for the Seattle Sounders. “There are no easy points to be had, and I think that will be valuable come the third game or if teams keep knocking points off each other. It’s one of those groups where anything could happen.”
Each group features round robin play, with the top two teams advancing to a 16-team, single-elimination bracket.
That will come next June. And that remains an especially long way away for Zusi and Besler, who play Real Salt Lake for the MLS Cup at 3 p.m. Saturday at Sporting Park.
“My focus right now is tomorrow’s game,” Besler said Friday morning. “I’m certainly interested in this and excited, but I’ll start thinking about it more after tomorrow.”