Amidst more coverage and intensity than ever before, the United States find themselves in what most people believe is a favorable World Cup Grouping. This summer they will face England, Algeria, and Slovenia.
Other than the English game, most expect the U.S. to walk through the group stages and move on to the second round. But if one were to take a look at any of the official odds, the chance of progression for the United States isn't as optimistic.
There's a reason.
First, the nature of the tournament does not allow much breathing room. All it takes is a win and a tie, and a team has a chance of advancing. Similarly, one loss and a tie, and a team must win to have any chance of advancing.
Now, add the United States' struggles with European sides, weak or strong, and the group stage gets precarious.
Assuming that the English game is a loss—a likely outcome as the United States has only two wins in nine matches against England—the U.S.'s next two games do not allow any room for upsets. Unfortunately, both the Algeria and Slovenia games are prime opportunities for disaster.
It doesn't help that the overall impression of the draw is fortuitous for the United States. If the players decide that they have already advanced, they may not prepare properly or take the sides seriously. Then there are the teams themselves.
Algeria is playing on home turf (Africa), and they will be playing for pride. There's a good chance that the crowd will support them, so expect the environment to be hostile. Also, the Algerian side is used to being the underdog. They needed to defeat Egypt, the African cup winners that had more experience and higher profile players than any on the Algerian team.
It was a one-game playoff match with everything at stake, and they won—in Somalia ! The experience gained from their qualifying struggles make them dangerous if the U.S. does not come out ready to play.
But it's Slovenia that may hamper US's fortunes this summer.
Call it the European curse. The United States does not play well against a well disciplined, strong defensive squad like Slovenia (review the result from the recent Slovakia friendly for reference). The Slovenians do not allow goals; they are disciplined and vicious. They beat a talented Russian side in their playoff match-up. Goals will not be easy to come by.
Even if the Slovenians do not upset the United States, a draw may be enough to keep the United States from advancing. As highly unlikely as it may be, if either Slovenia or Algeria stifles England or finds a way to steal a win, advancing becomes complicated.
It's even more complex if England qualifies early and decides to rest players for their final group match much like the United States did after cementing their advancement in 2002. The U.S. ended up checking out for their match-up against Poland and lost 3-0.
If England does the same, Slovenia could advance rather than the United States.
Another much more likely scenario would be a tie for second place in the group. Goal differential could come into play. Then, how the United States loses to England is of ultimate importance. The US cannot afford a normal English/American meeting. The game cannot get out of hand. A three- or four-goal loss is all it could take to keep the United States out of the knockout rounds.
Or, two goals could be enough, considering Slovenia's stingy defense. They only let in four goals in ten qualifying matches.
To me, advancement does not seems as easy as many believe. It only takes one mistake, and the makeup of this group, along with the United States' weaknesses, may be enough to have that happen.
Of course, the draw could have been worse. It's a relief that the U.S. is playing Algeria and Slovenia rather than the Ivory Coast and Portugal. And this World Cup in particular has more competitive sides qualifying than ever before. It was highly unlikely based on the U.S. seeding that they were going to coast through their group.
Still, let's talk about the luck of the draw after the U.S. is through to the second round.