Today the United States Men's National Soccer Team squares off against Germany at Noon on ESPN. If you aren't planning on watching this game I'm gonna go ahead and assume you have no soul and enjoy biting Italians in the neck like Luis Suarez and Edward Cullen! This game is big, I mean REALLY BIG! The reason this game is SO big is because of how much hangs in the balance in this game. This game determines, along with the Ghana vs. Portugal game (played simultaneously on ESPN2), the destiny of the United States Men's soccer team in the 2014 World Cup, but it also does a whole lot more!
Before we get in to all the other details let's deal with the game at hand and the implications for the USA in this World Cup. Below is how things currently stand in Group G:
- Germany: 4 points (+4 goal differential)
- USA: 4 points (+1 goal differential)
- Ghana: 1 point (-1 goal differential)
- Portugal: 1 point (-4 goal differential)
If you don't know how the Group Stage of the World Cup works then reference my previous post "A Layman's Guide to the World Cup". For those of you who do understand the rules of the group stage, I am going to take us through the different scenarios that could pan out for the USA in a few hours!
The first and best scenario for the USA is a win vs. Germany. This would give the USA 7 points in the group and leave Germany with 4 points. The USA would win the group and move on the play the team that finishes second in group H (Most likely Russia or Algeria). Germany would probably finish second in the group (due to having a higher goal differential than a winner of the Portugal vs Ghana game) and go on to play the winner of group H (Most likely Belgium)
The second Scenario would be for the USA to tie Germany. This would automatically send both the USA and Germany through to the next round with 5 points each (it wouldn't matter the outcome of the Ghana vs. Portugal game because the best either team could achieve would be 4 points with a win). Germany would win the group based on their superior goal differential (+4)
This is where things get tricky. In this scenario the USA would lose to Germany and remain with 4 points. The reason things get tricky here is because they could still move on no matter what happens in the other game, let me explain with some scenarios inside this scenario (inception!!!)!
- Inception Scenario 3.1: The USA lose to Germany BUT Portugal and Ghana tie. This would give both Portugal and Ghana 2 points each and the USA would still have 4 points and take second in the group.
- Inception Scenario 3.2: The USA lose to Germany and Portugal beats Ghana. In this scenario Germany would win the group with 7 points and the USA & Portugal would be tied in second place with 4 points each. The first tiebreaker is goal differential. That means that it matters how much the USA lose to Germany by and how much Portugal beats Ghana by. The USA's goal differential is +1 and Portugal's is -4. That means that Portugal would need an overall 6 goal swing in order to knock the USA from taking second in the group (think USA looses 3-0 to Germany and Portugal beats Ghana 3-0 making USA's goal differential -2 and Portugal's -1).
- Inception Scenario 3.3: Similar to "Inception Scenario 2" here the USA lose to Germany and Ghana beats Portugal. This is the worst scenario for the USA if they can't tie or beat Germany. The obvious reason being that it would be much easier for Ghana to win the goal differential tiebreak than for Portugal. Whereas Portugal have to overcome a 5 goal difference, Ghana only trail the USA's goal differential by 2 goals. That means that if the USA lose to Germany by 2 goals and Ghana beats Portugal by 1 goal then Ghana would get second in the group by having a 0 goal differential while the USA have a goal differential of -1.
- Inception Scenario 3.4 (Sort of?): The reason I say "sort of" is just because I want to clarify. You may be asking, "What happens if the USA lose to Germany by 1 goal and Ghana beats Portugal by 1 goal?!?" Good question! In that situation the USA and Ghana would have the same number of points (4) and the same goal differential (0). The next tie break is which team has scored more goals. This means that even though both teams have the same goal differential they may not have gotten there the same way. For example the USA could have a "0" goal differential by having scored 10 goals and conceding 10 goals. Likewise Ghana could have a "0" goal differential by scoring 1 goal and conceding 1 goal. In that situation the USA would advance because they would have scored more goals (even though the goal differential is the same). In the crazy circumstance that two teams have the same number of points, the same goal differential, and the same number of goals, the final tie breaker would be to draw the advancing country from a hat. I kid you not! If the USA is tied with either Ghana or Portugal in all those categories then FIFA will literally do a random draw to see which team goes through!
What to Hope For Today
With all this being stated it should be clear that we are either hoping for scenario 1 or 2. If the USA do lose to Germany then we should be pulling for a Portugal vs. Ghana tie. If the USA lose to Germany and the Portugal vs. Ghana game isn't going to end in a tie then we are hoping that Portugal wins. After than things get really complicated!
Beyond World Cup 2014
The USA Men's Soccer team has never advanced beyond the quarter-finals of a World Cup. With the growth of soccer in the USA skyrocketing over the last 30 years and the growth of the MLS continuing for the last 15 years, the time is ripe for the USA Men's Soccer team to make a statement. The USA Men's Soccer team has broken more barriers in the time between World Cup 2010 and now than ever before (winning in Europe, Winning in Mexico City, etc). There is support and momentum behind the team that could have a snowball effect if the USA advance out of "The Group of Death" and into the knockout phase!
Moreover, advancing from this group would only increase the confidence of the USA Men's Soccer team to such a degree that a run to the quarter or semi-finals is not out of the question! If the USA make it through the group then the odds are quite strong that they will play either Belgium, Algeria, or Russia in the round of 16. Belgium is a quality opponent but considering the quality of opponent the USA has already faced in the group there is no reason why we should not consider advancement to the quarter-finals out of the question.
Likewise, in the quarter-finals the USA would most likely meet Argentina (one of the tournament favorites with the best player in the world, Leo Messi). Again, they would be playing a very quality opponent. But, Argentina just barely beat Nigeria 3-2 yesterday and the USA beat Nigeria 2-1 (with a very late Nigerian PK mind you) a week before the World Cup. The speculation is vast at this point, but if the USA were to advance from this group of death then the possibility for a birth in the quarter-finals or semi-finals is a reality too sweet not to think about.
I believe that a run like this would see an immediate rise in the popularity of the sport in general (and the MLS in particular) in the states. The USA has a long way to go and many decisions to make concerning the nature of professional soccer domestically but a deep run into the 2014 World Cup would bring many of these issues to the fore which would be extremely beneficial to the sport stateside as a whole!
Enjoy the game and GO USA!