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ASN Weekly Debate

Will the United States Get Out of Its World Cup Group?

Our fearless debaters duke it out over whether the Americans can reach the second round in 2014. This back and forth fight goes 10 rounds or more. Boxing metaphors apply to soccer, right?
BY Noah Davis and Ryan O'Hanlon Posted
November 22, 2013
1:00 PM
Noah Davis: Ryan, this week's panique du jour of the American fanbase involves the coming draw. The general consensus is that the United States will finished somewhere between third and 17th in its four-team group. Can the U.S. advance to the next round?

Ryan O'Hanlon: I just did a simulated draw—which, ugh—and the U.S. is in a group with Switzerland, Nigeria, and Croatia. Would the team be favored to get out of that group? Probably not. Could they? I think so.

Davis: That seems like a pretty favorable draw considering some of the other options. I just did one that had them playing Brazil, Ghana, and the Germans from Victory. I think they'd probably struggle there.

O'Hanlon: Yeah, the next one I did was Spain, Italy, and the Knights from The Big Green, which would also be pretty tough.

Davis: I don't think it matters who is in the U.S.'s group. I think this team has proven they can beat anyone. Any given day that ends in "day," man.

O'Hanlon: Have they, though? In the three hardest (actual) games the team played this year, they were 0-2-1.

Davis: By your logic, there's no reason to show up at all since all three games at the World Cup will be harder than any matches they played this year. But the World Cup is different. Give this squad three weeks to train together and they can, yes.

O'Hanlon: Whoa, whoa. I'm not saying that. I just think that's its foolish to say that the group doesn't matter. It matters for every team! Luck plays a huge part in every World Cup.

Davis: Do you think there's a substantially better chance the U.S. gets out of a group with Switzerland, Ecuador, and Russia than Brazil, France, and the Netherlands? Because I don't really.

O'Hanlon: Yes, I definitely do. What is your reasoning?

Davis: Difference in talent levels get mitigated at the World Cup. Teams play tight, not to lose. The U.S. is good at that style. Weird stuff happens.

O'Hanlon: That is reasonable reasoning. The difference in talent is definitely smaller than it looks when you're only playing one game. At the same time, all these ridiculously talented teams get the same amount of time to prepare as the U.S. does—and they actually get to prepare for the U.S.—which makes the games so much harder to win than, you know, a friendly.

Davis: That's charitable of you to consider that reasonable reasoning. It's pretty shoddy. But I do think that the U.S. tends to play up to its opposition in the World Cup. Italy in '06. England in '10. It's almost like they get up for the big opponents. Also, a long training camp for the Americans is more helpful than it is for the better teams. The U.S. needs the time to get together; Brazil doesn't.

O'Hanlon: I think that probably depends on the team, right? The long training camp should be beneficial to each team, if not in the exact same way. And it does seem like that, but they also got smoked by the Czech Republic in '06, so I'm not totally sure how much of a trend it is. Basically, the World Cup is really hard.

Davis: That game against the Czech Republic really was an epic disaster on every conceivable level. I hope that doesn't happen again. It would be disappointing. I do think you're discounting how much better this team can get with some time to train together. Americans are really, really good at teamwork.

O'Hanlon: I don't doubt that they can—but I don't doubt that a bunch of other teams can do the same, too. One thing Americans aren't very good at: winning World Cup games. They've won seven, which is not a large number.

Davis: But you only need to win one to get out of the group.

O'Hanlon: This is true... depending on the group. I just think it's fair for the team/fans/media/whoever to set their expectations based on whoever the team is drawn with. That probably will not happen. But I can dream. (If I actually dream about that, I will stop watching soccer.)

Davis: Actually, the second place team only had one win in 10 out of 16 groups in the last two World Cups. So there's a very good chance that one win will be enough. Thanks for playing, though.

O'Hanlon: So, six second-place teams had more than one win? Which means, depending on the group, you need to win more than one game. You also need at least one tie in this scenario, and the US has only tied five games in the history of the World Cup.

Davis: They are also 3-4-5 in the last three World Cups, which is another useless statistic if you insist we keep trotting them out. Last words: according to Paul Carr, the U.S. has a 43 percent chance of advancing to the second round. That feels... about right to me.

O'Hanlon: The U.S. has never won or tied a World Cup game with a former German soccer player as their head coach. They are also undefeated when a former German soccer player is their head coach at the World Cup. But as far as actually relevant statistics go, and at the risk of rendering this entire conversation useless, I... agree.

Davis: Great. So we're agreed that 43 percent of the time, the U.S. gets out of its group every time?

O'Hanlon: Every time, the U.S. gets out of its group 43 percent of the time.

Despite our best efforts, Noah Davis and Ryan O'Hanlon will not stop doing this every week. So tell us—do YOU think the Yanks will make it out their group? The Comments section below is open for business.

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