The World Cup draw — where the 32 qualified nations will be drawn into eight groups — takes place Friday in Brazil.
It could be a rough day for the U.S. men’s national team.
The groups are made by dividing all 32 teams into four “pots” and choosing one team from each pot. The problem for the U.S. is simple — many of the worst teams in the entire tournament are in their pot, meaning they can’t end up in a group with teams like Iran or Honduras.
Here are the pots, which FIFA made official today (a team from Pot 4 will be randomly drawn into Pot 2 on Friday to make all pots equal):
Pot 1 has the eight best teams in the world, according to FIFA’s rankings.
Pot 2 has five African teams, Chile, Ecuador, and a European team to be named later.
Pot 3 has four Asian teams and four North American teams.
Pot 4 has eight European teams.
When you do the maths, you see that USMNT’s chances of getting a favourable draw are slim. Here are the odds for where the U.S. will end up within its group (rankings based on Nate Silver’s SPI):
- Best team in group — 1.9%
- Second-best team in group — 20.2%
- Third-best team in group — 54.4%
- Worst team in group (group of death) — 23.4%
Not great! Only two teams in each group make it to the knockout stage.
Seven of eight teams in Pot 1 are better than the U.S., according to SPI. Switzerland is the only outlier.
If Greece or Croatia isn’t randomly drawn into Pot 2, three of the eight teams in Pot 2 will be better than the U.S.
Six of eight teams in Pot 4 will be better than the U.S. (seven of eight if Greece or Croatia is drawn into Pot 2).
That’s why the odds are stacked against the U.S — they just have so many teams to avoid.
Now let’s get to the real nightmare, the group of death. There’s a 23.4% chance the U.S. ends up as the lowest-ranked SPI team in its group.
Here are 10 examples of what a Group of Death could look like:
Not all groups of deaths are created equal, mind you.
The U.S. would be the lowest ranked team in a theoretical group of Uruguay, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Russia. But that would be at least manageable.
The worst possible draw for the U.S. is Brazil, Netherlands, Italy. Oof. Instant death. Luckily that only has a 0.024% chance of happening.
And hey, the U.S. could get lucky!
There’s a slim, slim, slim chance the the USMNT draws a GROUP OF HAPPY. Like these:
The U.S. lucked out with its draw last time. It could happen again.
But the numbers say the U.S. is going to have to pull a few upsets to make a deep World Cup run next summer.
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