My 3 Thoughts on the Men's World Cup Draw
USMNT Draws Wales/Scotland/Ukraine, England and Iran
The USMNT drew the winner of the European playoff (Wales or Scotland/Ukraine), England and Iran on Friday for its group-stage games at World Cup 2022 in Qatar. Here are my three thoughts on the draw:
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• The U.S. couldn’t have asked for a much better draw. The Yanks will open with a game against a good but beatable European team (Wales, Scotland or Ukraine), which is a great opportunity to start off the tournament right. (How a team does in its opening game has a huge influence on advancing from the group.) Then comes a showdown on Black Friday with England, a fun storyline and probably a better top seed to draw than Brazil or Argentina would have been (which would likely have meant two additional European teams in the group). Then comes a potential group decider with Iran, another good but beatable team that gives the U.S. the chance to avenge one of its most bitter defeats, at World Cup 1998. What’s more, if the U.S. advances, it would play a team from Group A, which has the worst top seed of the bunch (host Qatar) in addition to the Netherlands, Senegal and Ecuador. Playing a game on the first day of the World Cup does mean, however, that it’s unlikely the U.S. will be able to stage a friendly right before the tournament, since there’s such a short amount of time between when players are released from their clubs and the start of the World Cup. Nobody should disrespect any team at the World Cup, but if this U.S. team performs to its capability it can make a run.
• Mexico drew Argentina, Saudi Arabia and Poland. The U.S.’s archrival also can see a path to advance to the knockout rounds again. The key for El Tri will be its opening game in Group C against Poland, which will likely determine the team that advances from this group with Argentina. Poland is largely a one-man gang with Robert Lewandowski, and if the Mexican back line can lock him up, there’s no reason not to get three points in their opener. Mexico, however, likely would have a tougher Round of 16 game than the U.S. would, with possibilities including World Cup champion France and in-form Denmark.
• The Group of Death died when the FIFA seedings changed in 2018. And that’s a good thing. Starting with the draw for World Cup 2018, FIFA decided to seed all the draw pots, not just Pot 1, using the FIFA rankings instead of the previous method of grouping the remaining pots by confederation. As a result, you can’t really say that there is a Group of Death, or a particularly easy group either. The one group with a lesser top seed, host Qatar in Group A, drew the Netherlands (a dark horse to win the tournament), Senegal (the African champion) and Ecuador (the best South American team in qualifying outside of Brazil and Argentina). Having more balanced groups is just a fairer way of going about things, and it’s good that FIFA finally saw that.
What are your thoughts on the draw? You can join the discussion in the comments below.
Two dream friendly windows:
1) Italy at Meadowlands. 3-5m Italian Americans will make it a less welcoming environment (good for US). Italy gets a massive payday as an enticement (though I suppose they hardly need it). US gets a world class opponent who, with all those Italian Americans watching, will hopefully take the game reasonably seriously. MLS star Lorenzo Insigne. Second game of that window: Poland at Chicago Field. 3m Poles in Chicago + Adam Buksa.
2) Doha Double Header. Iran has played multiple qualifiers in Qatar - add that to thier being the 3rd closet country to the WC stadiums and it is a significant advantage. The young Americans could really use an opportunity to visit Qatar before November. First up: Iraq who played Iran tight in qualifiers (and RSLs Justin Merim) Then perhaps UAE or Saudi Arabia - in a second WC stadium.
BTW I think Iran is a sleeper and a much worse draw than apparent conventional wisdom. In addition to the above factors (a) many of their players are on Qatar club teams - this is quite literally a home tournament for a bunch of them and (b) Iran has a pretty capable center forward, a solid playmaker and stout back line with a great keeper (who holds the world record for throw distance - so far he rarely bothers booting the ball... [Matt Turner might take note: Perhaps a route to improve distribution accuracy and overcome Berhalter's hesitancy).
I think Iran smells a lot like Costa Rica - extremely hard to score on. My prediction is that Iran loses to England 1-0, beats TBD 1-0 and draws the US 0-0. The US could very well have the same win/loss outcome. On the assumption goal differential is the tie breaker then it will be important we avoid a multi-goal loss to England and/or secure a multi goal win v TBD.
Can't complain. Every game will be winnable. Winning the group (and facing the number 2) finisher in Group A will be very important, since the drop off between the Netherlands (likely) and the second place team will be huge.