2014 World Cup: 6 Teams USA Hopes to Avoid in Group Play in the World Cup
With the Gold Cup trophy hanging on the mantelpiece, the United States national team can now look ahead to next summer's World Cup in Brazil.
While the Americans have not yet qualified for the world's biggest tournament, they have established a two-point lead at the top of the CONCACAF hexagonal, a six-team group from which three teams automatically qualify.
As a result of the six-point cushion between them and fourth-placed Honduras with just four matches remaining for every team, it looks like it will take a bit of a collapse for the USA to miss out on Brazil.
Barring such a catastrophic run, though, the USA will enter the World Cup as anything but favorites.
Still, American fans will be dreaming of a deep run in the tournament, hoping their team can get through group play and use the unpredictable nature of the knockout stage to their advantage.
So what national teams will the USA be hoping to avoid in the draw for next summer's tournament?
Here are six teams every American fan shouldn't want to see in their team's group.
How They Were Chosen
Before delving into this list of teams, one should spare a thought as to how it was created and why these teams are here.
The final draw for the World Cup is, by its nature, an unpredictable prospect.
For it, the 32 nations that qualify for the tournament are split into four pots of eight.
In the draw for the 2010 World Cup, the host and the best remaining seven teams by the FIFA World Rankings were placed in the first pot, every remaining team from North America, Asia and Oceania was placed in the second pot, every remaining team from Africa and South America was placed in the third pot and every remaining team from Europe was placed in the fourth pot.
Assuming that this procedure is replicated this time around, this leaves the first pot potentially stacked, with host Brazil, defending champion Spain and potential juggernauts like Germany, Argentina, the Netherlands, Italy, Colombia and Belgium filling each group.
While a team would definitely like to avoid every one of those teams, the fact that they take up an entire pot means that they would be stuck with one of them.
As a result, these teams are not shoo-ins for this list. After all, drawing a team like Belgium, as good as they are, might be seen as a victory as opposed to drawing Spain or Brazil.
Thus, this is not an accurate portrayal of the top six national teams in the world, but rather the six teams that would create the most difficult group for the USA should they get drawn with them.
Further, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Iran, Jordan, Uzbekistan and the USA's remaining opponents in the hexagonal group were not considered, as they would be placed in the same pot as the Americans.
Portugal is one dangerous team.
At this point in World Cup qualifying, the Portuguese are having difficulty shoring up a spot in the European playoffs, let alone a World Cup place.
Don't let that fool you, though.
In both the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, Portugal struggled in qualifying before eking out a spot in the tournament and progressing through their group.
The threat that Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani pose down the wings is something that the USA would have a tough time defending.
Further, their struggles in this qualifying campaign mean that the Portuguese could easily fall out of the top eight teams in the world, especially as they sit in seventh at the moment.
Hence, getting drawn with Portugal would mean the USA would be stuck in a group with both of them and a team from the first pot, a formula that would almost automatically qualify it as a "Group of Death."
Throughout their World Cup qualifying process, thus far, Ecuador has proved that it is a sleeper team heading into Brazil.
They currently sit in third place in a competitive South American group, only behind Colombia and Argentina.
The Ecuadorians have compiled an incredible record in home matches, earning 19 points out of 21 and only dropping points in a draw with Argentina.
With the World Cup in Brazil, chances are, Ecuador would be the de facto home team of the group, giving them quite an advantage, given their great record.
Further, the tragic death of 27-year-old Christian Chucho Benitez, a popular member of the team, gives Ecuador the emotional edge over any rivals they might have.
While this advantage might not be a tangible asset, no one wants to go up against a side that has come together over a cause as sincere as honoring a fallen comrade.
Thanks to a costly loss to Scotland in their last World Cup qualifier, Croatia sits three points behind Belgium in UEFA's Group A.
Despite a home game with the Belgians still to be played in October, a five-goal deficit in goal difference makes it look unlikely that the Croatians will be able to win the group and qualify automatically for the World Cup.
As a result, Croatia will have to go through a playoff, and, should they qualify from there, get into the fourth pot of the draw.
With Luka Modric providing the creativity in the middle of the park and Mario Mandzukic up front to put the ball in the back of the net, this team is one that could easily do some damage in Brazil and make a deep run to the quarterfinals.
The USA should not be happy if their draw gives them Croatia along with a team from the top pot.
One just never knows what they're going to get from Uruguay.
The South Americans have put in some relatively dismal performances in World Cup qualifying, thus far, pushing them into fifth place in the group and out of the automatic qualifying spots.
However, Uruguay has performed quite well in major tournaments, as of late, winning the 2011 Copa America and finishing in fourth place in the 2010 World Cup and 2013 Confederations Cup.
Thus, if the Uruguayans can get through this tough qualifying process, it wouldn't be surprising to see Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani power them to a strong World Cup campaign.
Adding this hurdle to one of the top teams from the first pot would produce a group that the USA would want to avoid.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Over the past four years, Bosnia and Herzegovina has been quietly building a strong team with good experience.
The Bosnians made it to the qualifying playoffs in both the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, but fell both times to a strong Portuguese side.
With those failures in mind, they have come out firing in this qualifying campaign, scoring 23 goals in six matches thus far and making a statement about their abilities while building a three-point lead on Greece.
As Bosnia and Herzegovina has no matches remaining with the Greeks and a seemingly insurmountable lead in goal differential, they seem all but assured of a place in Brazil.
However, it is unlikely that they will be able to find their way into the top eight of the FIFA World Rankings, meaning they would be paired with one of the juggernauts from the first pot.
Needless to say, that would be a tough group for the USA to get through.
Why should the USA want to avoid Ghana?
Well, if recent history is any guide, Ghana has the USA's number, as the Africans have eliminated them in each of the last two World Cups.
In the 2006 World Cup, the Americans needed a victory over Ghana to progress through the group, yet fell, 2-1, and were sent home.
Four years later, the USA were paired with the Ghanaians in a round of 16 match and lost a heartbreaker, 2-1, in extra time.
Vengeance might be sweet, but American fans might think it's a bad omen to see Ghana in their team's group in 2014.