The popular consensus around the United States men’s national team heading into the 2014 World Cup is twofold: 1) this is one of the best teams we’ve ever sent to a World Cup, and 2) there’s no way we get out of the group.
The reason for the pessimism is simple: The group is incredibly difficult. Ghana has eliminated the U.S. from two-straight World Cups, Portugal has the best player in the world, and Germany is one of the favourites to win the entire tournament.
Even ESPN’s Alexi Lalas thinks the U.S. is going to get eliminated before the knockout stage.
Based on his “soccer power index” model, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver gives the U.S. a 36% chance of advancing out of the group.
That’s actually pretty optimistic compared to most. Silver says the public gives the U.S. just a 26% chance, based on betting odds.
Silver’s main reason for why we shouldn’t be so pessimistic about the USMNT is that, according his numbers, Group G isn’t as hard as some make it out to be.
His main points:
- No one has any idea if Ghana is any good: “They’re hard to peg because they don’t play competitive matches against the rest of the world all that often, but SPI does not have them on the rise this year.”
- Portugal is a one-man team: “Portugal has no other player who clearly belongs in the top 100.”
- Germany might leak a goal: “But as an offence-minded squad, the team might be ever so slightly more prone toward letting in a soft goal and drawing (although probably not losing) a game that it shouldn’t.”
The perceived difficulty of Group G is the why so many people are down on the U.S.’s chance in Brazil.
Silver isn’t saying Group G is easy, but he’s saying the U.S. isn’t as doomed as people think.
It’s still going to be a monumental task for the USMNT. Even Silver’s relatively optimistic outlook for the U.S. gives them a 64% chance of losing in the first round.
The realistic best-case scenario is beating Ghana, tying Portugal, and going through on goal difference no matter what happens against Germany. For a glass-half-full hypothetical, that’s not exactly bullish.
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