After Uruguay finishes off Jordan in the second leg of their playoff Wednesday, the World Cup field of 32 teams will be set.
The next step is the World Cup draw on December 6th, where the teams will be divided into all-important groups.
The draw process is simple. There are four “pots” with eight teams each. The final groups consist of one team from each of the four pots, and they are randomly drawn from a hat.
So teams from Pot 1 can’t be in groups with teams from Pot 1, etc.
The projected pots look like this:
Pot 1 is the top-eight teams in the world according to FIFA’s rankings.
Pot 2 is four teams from Asia and four teams from North America.
Pot 3 and is five teams from Africa, two teams from South America, and one team from Europe.
Pot 4 is eight teams from Europe.
The problem for the United States men’s national team is obvious. They are the best team in the worst pot — meaning they can’t be drawn into a group with many of the worst teams in the entire tournament (Iran, Honduras, etc.)
Five of the seven worst teams in the World Cup (according to Nate Silver’s SPI ranking), are in the U.S.’s pot. The only truly bad team that the U.S. can possibly play is Algeria.
When you look at the potential opponents that teams in each pot will be drawn with, you see how difficult the road is for Pot 2 teams.
Here’s the average SPI ranking of potential opponents by projected pot:
- Pot 1: 24.54
- Pot 4: 21.38
- Pot 3: 18.79
- Pot 2 (U.S.’s pot): 16.16
Whereas the power teams in Pot 1 don’t have to play other Pot 1 teams, and European teams in Pot 4 don’t have to play most other European qualifiers, the U.S. has to worry about all of the above.
It gets worse.
Only two teams from each group make it to the knockout rounds. Since the U.S. is in an unfavorable pot, odds are that there will be two teams in their group that are ranked higher than them — and are thus favoured to advance.
They could get drawn with Brazil and the Netherlands, or Argentina and Italy, and it’d be incredibly difficult to move on from the first round.
Here are the odds on where the U.S. will be drawn within their group (rankings based on SPI):
- Best team in group: 3.9%
- Second-best team in group: 33.6%
- Third-best team in group: 46.1%
- Worst team in group (group of death): 16.4%
The best case scenario is getting drawn with Switzerland from Pot 1, which is ranked 7th in the world according to FIFA’s flawed rankings, but only 22nd in the world according to SPI.
It’s looking bleak though.
The odds say the U.S. is going to be in a group with two better teams — a power team from Pot 1, and either a European giant from Pot 4 or Chile (ranked 5th best team in the world), Ecuador (11th), or France (7th) from Pot 3.
There’s even a not-insignificant 16.4% chance they get drawn into a group of death.
Some possibilities for that nightmare scenario:
That’d be awful.
The U.S. got incredibly lucky in the 2010 World Cup draw, landing England, Slovenia, and Algeria. And even then it took a miracle Landon Donovan goal to get out of the group.
The odds say their road will be much more difficult this time around.
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