The 32 World Cup teams are set. So now what?
Two weeks from Friday, on Dec. 6, FIFA will conduct the draw at a resort in Brazil’s Bahia state. Live coverage of the formal proceedings begins around 11:30 a.m. ET on ESPN2, Univision, Univision Deportes, ESPN3.com and FIFA.com.
Honorary guests will pull names from four pots to form the eight first-round groups. Teams sharing the same pots cannot land in the same group. FIFA has not finalized the composition of the pots, but they are expected to look like this:
Pot A (seeded teams based on FIFA rankings): Brazil, Spain, Germany, Argentina, Colombia, Belgium, Switzerland, Uruguay.
Pot B (Asia and CONCACAF): Japan, Australia, Iran, South Korea, United States, Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico.
Pot C (South America, Africa and lowest-standing Euro): Chile, Ecuador, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Algeria, Ghana, France.
Pot D (Europe): Netherlands, Italy, England, Portugal, Greece, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Russia.
Group of Death for USA: Brazil, Ghana and Netherlands.
Near-Death Experience for USA: Spain, Chile and Italy.
Hospice for USA: Germany, Nigeria, Portugal.
Best-Case Scenario: Switzerland, Algeria, Greece.
My prediction: Argentina, Cameroon, Croatia.
Before the draw even begins, the Americans are in a tight spot because most of the weakest teams in the 32-team field are in their pot, and consequently, can’t end up in the same first-round group.
No matter the combination, the United States will almost certainly be rated the third- or fourth-best team in the group and need to execute a surprise or two (victory or ties) in order to finish in the top two and reach the knockout stage.
Here’s how the draw has played out for the United States since 1990 …
1990: Czechoslovakia, Italy, Austria. (fourth place, no points)
1994: Switzerland, Colombia, Romania. (third place, four points, advanced in old format)
1998: Germany, Iran, Yugoslavia. (fourth place, no points)
2002: Portugal, South Korea, Poland. (second place, four points, advanced)
2006: Czech Republic, Italy, Ghana. (fourth place, one point)
2010: England, Slovenia, Algeria. (first place, five points, advanced)
You do see a pattern there, right?
The World Cup will kick off June 12 in Sao Paulo and conclude July 13 in Rio de Janeiro. [Calendar here]
What’s next for the U.S. team?
Juergen Klinsmann will conduct the annual January training camp by splitting time between Los Angeles and Sao Paulo. He has made clear to World Cup roster candidates who aren’t active with their clubs at that time: Go to Europe on loan or come to camp. He doesn’t want players, namely MLS players, sitting idly through the entire winter.
The USSF is close to finalizing a friendly in late January or early February, most likely on the West Coast. South Korea is coming over to play Mexico on Jan. 29 in San Antonio, so the Koreans figure to play the Americans as well. The federation won’t comment until the contract is signed. However, because the United States and South Korea cannot face one another at the World Cup, this is a friendly matchup that does not require waiting for the outcome of the draw. (Cup-bound teams avoid playing friendies against group opponents.)
Klinsmann plans to play a friendly in Europe on the only FIFA fixture date leading to the World Cup (March 5). The USSF has also explored the possibility of an April match, but at the moment, those prospects are 50-50. When the European club seasons end, U.S. training camp will open in May at a location to be determined with a preliminary World Cup Cup roster. The team will play multiple send-off matches at home in May and, at some point during that stretch, Klinsmann will finalize the 23-man list. The delegation is tentatively scheduled to depart for Brazil about a week before its group opener.