So you thought the World Cup draw was tough? Group G was the Group of Death? And that the cosmos had to lighten up on the U.S. once (if) it got through that three-game murderer’s row?
This is going to sting a little.
You knew this was going to be rough, but how rough exactly? Let’s take a look at the most likely hypothetical path through the World Cup involving the USMNT this summer. Few are rosy. Brazil, it seems, is intent on raining down unholy death on U.S. Soccer this summer.
Few are particularly bullish on the U.S. getting out of the group at all, let alone finishing in the top two. Especially after the display in San Francisco against Azerbaijan on Tuesday. But let’s say they do. The most likely event is the U.S. squeaking by Portugal and Ghana to finish snugly behind Germany in second in Group G. That flips the USMNT to the other side of the bracket to face the winner of Group H. The second-place finisher goes the other way to face Germany.
Depending on your outlook, this makes the U.S. opponent either Belgium or Russia. Judging by form and talent, this is probably what that looks like.
Excellent. Great. Fantastic. The U.S. has already had to navigate past the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 38 (wildly underrated Ghana) teams in the FIFA rankings, and now it has Belgium, home to an insane array of talent like Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois and probably a Transformer or two. The odds to win this game are estimated at around 100/1. Good.
So in the unlikely event the U.S. dodges another bullet and pulls off another massive upset (to say nothing of a meeting with Russia), on it marches into the quarterfinals in defiance of God and man.
While the U.S. has been pulling off one of the most unlikely strings of victories in recent World Cup memory, groups F (Argentina, Iran, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Nigeria) and E (Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras) have been flailing away at one another. And compared to the continual heavyweight bout the U.S. has been facing, it’s been a pillow fight. In our simulation, Argentina eases past Group F with three wins in three, relegating second-place Bosnia-Herzegovina to a second-place spot on the other half of the bracket. France, barely qualified but blessed with the easiest group of the tournament, lurches its way to a first-place finish just ahead of Switzerland, which is sent as sacrifice for the Albiceleste.
Which sets up… oh no. Dear God. Not this again.
By this point, the underdog moniker has worn off the U.S. breastplate, and all that’s left is a bloodied, fist-pummeled smiley face with two black eyes and all its teeth missing. And it’s not smiling anymore. Cristiano Ronaldo, Asamoah Gyan, Mesut Ozil, Eden Hazard and Lionel Messi in the span of five consecutive games? God help me, my kneecaps have disappeared. I don’t even know where they are. They’re just gone.
As if to shake a collective fist to the organizers of sport in some cruel cosmic corner of the universe, the U.S. brings out the cudgels and slogs through a horrible 120 minutes before taking Argentina to penalties and sneaking by thanks to a red card Messi picked up in the 1st minute when he went studs up into Angel Di Maria to end the latter’s summer. But the U.S. made it! On to the semifinals! It’s a miracle!
By this time the U.S. is so drunk on victory that it’s blind to color and facial recognition. Spain? I heard Azerbaijan. We’re playing Azerbaijan? Excellent. Dos-a-cero it is. And, somehow, the U.S. does it again. Thanks to a rogue locksmith, the U.S. finds a way past Spain by simply showing up, pushing the Red, White & Blue into its first ever World Cup final, where they’ll undoubtedly face Brazil. Not the team, but the entire nation, united in its fervency by the millions. The U.S., a hearty band of 11, wedges itself between two large cliff faces and holds out for hours, slaying thousands of the enemy before the horde finally overwhelms the U.S., which lost King Leolandon to an arrow before the fight began.
Wait, is that the plot for 300? I think that’s the plot for 300.
In any case, it was a valiant run that will live long in the memory for USMNT fans everywhere. And now that you’ve seen it happen on paper, enjoy it, because Brazil 2014 is about to seize the U.S. by the neck and shake it for all its worth.