The World Cup draw in Costo do Sauipe, Brazil, didn’t merely defeat the U.S. national soccer team on Friday, it scored a hat trick. Things probably could not have turned out worse, for a national club or a travel agent:
First in Group G, on June 16, the Americans face an opener in Natal, a city in the northeast corner of Brazil, against Ghana. This is the African opponent that has knocked out the Americans from the last two World Cups, a tough, physical and fit team that does not fade regardless of pace.
Next, on June 22, the U.S. national soccer team will need to navigate above and around the Amazon jungle in order to play Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal in the remote northwest city of Manaus, with a tropical rainforest climate and humid June temperatures typically in the 80s. Ronaldo at the moment is the most in-form player in the world.
Finally, after returning to base camp in Sao Paulo (in the southeast), it’s back to the northeast for a June 26 match against Germany in Recife. Germany, as we all know, is an automatic advancer from any group and defeated the Americans at the 1998 and 2002 World Cups.
After traveling about 10,000 miles over 10 days, the U.S. team will finally be done with the first round. Odds are, the Americans will also will be done with the World Cup after finishing out of the top two. But wherever there is Jurgen Klinsmann, the eternal optimist, there is hope.
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U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann tries to stay positive despite the lousy draw for the Americans.
“It couldn’t get any amore difficult or any bigger, but that’s what the World Cup is all about,” Klinsmann told ESPN after the draw. “We’ve improved so much over the last 2½ years. We don’t look at ourselves as any kind of outsiders. If you want to get to the top 12, the top 10 in the world, you have to start beating them.”
There was a brief moment in this draw when the Americans had a 50-50 chance of landing in Group H, joining Belgium, Russia and Algeria — a relative cakewalk, compared to their eventual fate. That didn’t work out, and now the U.S. must consider its difficult path.
Nothing is impossible, of course. Portugal is not a deep side, and the Americans beat this national team in 2002, propelling them toward the quarterfinals. It also helps that the U.S. does not open against Germany, a demoralizing matchup that worked against the Americans in 1998. If the U.S. can slow Ronaldo, there is a chance.
“You’re gonna need help,” said DaMarcus Beasley, the left back most likely assigned to defend Ronaldo. “It’s not a one-man defending show. I’m going to try to push him inside and get help from our midfielders and defenders.”
The trip to Manaus is particularly daunting, and not one that anybody wanted to make.
The U.S. will meet Germany (top l.), Portugal (top r.) and Ghana (bottom l.) in Brazil at World Cup.
“There will be some problems from an organizational point,” Klinsmann said. “We hit the worst of the worst. I was talking to people here, and they said, ‘Anything but Manaus,’ and we got Manaus.’ We’ll deal with it.”
The match against Germany will also feature an awkward reunion between Klinsmann and the coaching staff he put together when he was coach of that national team in the World Cup.
“I kind of had it in my stomach we were going to get Germany,” Klinsmann said. “A lot of emotions involved. I’m German. I know the staff. It’s all the staff I built in 2006. It’s going to be a special moment. We’re going to give them a real fight.”
If misery loves company, then the Americans can take comfort in England’s sorry fate. The English are stuck with Uruguay and Italy in Group D, and must face the Italians in — gulp — Manaus. Spain is married to both Netherlands and Chile in Group B, another tight honeymoon suite.
On it goes, with some teams luckier than others. The Americans were fortunate in 2008, when their group in South Africa was beatable and the commute was a dream. Not so this time. Since 1990, they have advanced to the second round in every second World Cup — 1994, 2002 and 2010.
The signs look good for Russia 2018.