I could say that the United States' draw could have been worse. But not much worse.
The USA will play in Group G at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil next summer and will play Germany, Portugal and Ghana.
Germany, second ranked team in the world, that breezed through a UEFA qualifying group that included Sweden, Austria and Ireland with an unbeaten 9W-0L-1D record. And you can throw out that USA friendly win over Germany back in the summer which featured a mainly reserve lineup, even though the US played really well.
Portugal, or really, Christiano Ronaldo who has carried his country and his team on his back through qualifying. But Portugal still has a really solid overall team, and it means that for at least two hours...myself and New England Revolution fans must root against anything related to Jose Goncalves. (Seriously, not looking forward to this...)
And Ghana. Sigh...
I don't think there is team in the world that has caused more heartbreak for the USA in recent years than Ghana. I do not want to relieve 2010 (I want to remember Donovan doing this) or 2006 (I've blocked this from memory) but it's important to know that Ghana competed in only two World Cups, and defeated and eliminated the USA in both of them.
Oh, and the USA gets to play in the Amazon city of Manaus and will have the longest travel schedule in terms of miles traveled for their group schedule.
But this is the World Cup. There are no easy games. There are no easy draws. Last year's draw was supposed to be easy, but the US found themselves in a must win against Algeria to advance after draws with England and Slovenia. 32 teams in the world qualified for this tournament and deserve to be here. And the United States is one of those teams.
And the more I think about this draw, the more I think of what a great opportunity the USA has to prove to the rest of the world that it's not just the best team in CONCACAF, but one of the better teams in the world, worthy of a Top 15 ranking in the FIFA rankings if you believe in such things.
I believe that the USA at this point is worthy of a "Top 16" ranking, meaning that every World Cup, regardless of the draw, fans expect them to get out of the group stages and into the knockout round at a minimum. Is it an accomplishment to qualify for the World Cup and to win The Hex? Of course it is, but the rest of the world doesn't care how many times we beat Panama or Jamaica or anyone else in CONCACAF. The rest of the world, in all likelihood, judges you on World Cup play and I don't think that 1930 semifinal appearance really counts.
And I don't count 2002 personally. Yes, the USA made a great run into the quarterfinals, beating Mexico in the round of 16 and getting hosed against Germany. But that's not the point. The US backed into the knockout stages because they couldn't beat Poland in the final group game and while beating Portugal in that tournament was an accomplishment, I never liked the way it played out for the US. As a fan, I want to see my team earn it on the field. In the 2009 Confederations Cup, the US needed to beat Egypt by three goals, and they did. Yes, Brazil gave them some help by thrashing Italy, but the US went out and did their job. Last World Cup, they needed to beat Algeria, and while it took 93 minutes, it happened.
So the US will play against Ghana on June 16 in Natal, Portugal on June 22 in Manaus and Germany on June 26 in Recife. And the goal remains the same: Get out of the group, survive and advance. And yes, the United States are in the proverbial "Group of Death" but so are Germany, Portugal and Ghana.
Yes, Germany is really, really good. Yes, Christiano Ronaldo is one of the best players in the world. Yes, Ghana owns the USA in World Cup play. But that doesn't mean the US can't get results against all three of these teams. And it absolutely means that as much as US fans are dreading the teams in their group, it's a mutual feeling. Everyone in Group G is in the same boat.
But there are some quick positives to take from each of these games. Jurgen Klinsmann used to coach Germany and I can't think of a better person to gameplan against Germany than their former coach. Portugal didn't exactly struggle in qualification, but calling them a one man team right now would be fair and that isn't exactly a compliment. Of course, that still means figuring out a way to shut down Ronaldo, not an easy thing to do. And Ghana might be an African power with the US' number, they haven't exactly been proving it on the world stage of late. In 2013, Ghana played only two games against a non-African nation, a 2-2 friendly draw at Turkey and a 1-3 loss at Japan.
And let's not forget that the United States is coming off one of the best year's in its history if not arguably the best. For better or for worse, this is also one of the deepest US rosters, with lots of players getting time on the field during qualifying and players being able to show that they can play in different positions. And every four years the US gets to go up against the best in the world, and US fans get to see if we're climbing the proverbial ladder in world football or free falling off of it.
And I'm going to enjoy every second of it, and while it would help if the USA did well, that's not the only reason to watch. Group D is perhaps a second "Group of Death" with Uruguay, England, Italy and Costa Rica. I'm really excited to see Group B with Spain, Netherlands (rematch of 2010 Final), Chile and Australia which I think could be more competitive than Group D. Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Germany could all make the semifinals and showcase four of the best teams in the world in two games.
So the road in Brazil will be long (no seriously, it's like almost 9,000 miles between venues) and probably tough. But this is how the United States proves it belongs on the world stage. This is how the US sheds it's image as a middling footballing country. By going out in the World Cup and competing and beating the best.
And I know that in 1930 the US made a semifinal run and in 2002 went into the quarterfinals, but I never liked that '02 run since the US backed their way into second place in the group and then played Mexico before getting jobbed against, oh yeah, Germany. If the US gets out of this group and does so in any kind of convincing fashion, it could be their greatest World Cup performance in history, at least in my opinion.
I think this US team can do it. And I think that the US is tired of just "getting out of the group." If there was ever a World Cup to pull it of, now would be a very good time to start.
Or do I need to bring back memories of 2006 or current Revs GM Mike Burns in 1998?
Na, let's think happy thoughts.