It is agreed that the U.S. men's soccer team is no longer filler on the world stage.
In the wake of a favorable draw that—if it plays at the level that is now expected of it—should pose little challenge, the question is how far must the U.S. go in the knockout stages for it to be called a success?
Ideally, a win would be the greatest success, but let's stay realistic here. The U.S. has shown it can upset a world power, but in the World Cup it would need to upset two, at least. But still, a deep run is very possible.
There is a realistic chance that the U.S. can beat out England for top of the group. It just takes three tasks to do this.
1. Take Points from England
A draw seems the likeliest way for the U.S. to do this but a repeat of Belo Horizonte would be great. Both teams are similar given the amount of U.S. players in the EPL (Altidore, Dempsey, and Howard the most well-known), so either a back-and-forth attacking display or a case of two teams canceling each other out is the most likely possibilities.
2. Beat Algeria and Slovenia
The U.S. got the draw it wanted with winnable ties against Algeria and Slovenia. The Algerians have many players throughout Europe like the U.S. does but have few regular key players on teams as most are subs and reserves.
Slovenia is the smallest team in the World Cup with as many people as Long Island and the size of Massachusetts. With players scattered throughout small- and medium-sized teams in Europe, they are similar to the U.S. in that respect. But the U.S. are far more talented than either of these two teams, so wins are likely and necessary.
3. Keep Clean Sheets
As much as the U.S. are expected to win against Algeria and Slovenia, England's expectations are much higher. Which is why clean sheets are vital since, assuming both teams beat Algeria and Slovenia and draw, goal difference will be the deciding factor in regard to who goes atop the group. If the U.S. keeps their clean sheets, the pressure will be on the English back four to keep clean sheets as well or finish second.
A major challenge for the U.S. will come in the round of 16, as the team will meet either Germany, Australia, Serbia, or Ghana—all four with great talent. Germany and Ghana each have ended the last two World Cup runs for the U.S. and have lethal talents. Serbia finished atop a group that had France in it, and the Aussies are an old talented team that most feel that this year is the last chance for a golden generation.
Beat any of those four and the World Cup can be successful.
The quarterfinal would likely be Argentina, France, or, most exciting and most winnable, Mexico. U.S. vs. Mexico World Cup quarterfinals—it would be the dream matchup for many U.S. supporters. And we'd be at the stage where anything is possible.
As it is for every World Cup.