Well, for starters, it's called the "Group of Death."
Every four years, soccer fans, pundits, and soccer fans who think they're pundits roll out the ominous-sounding phrase: "The Group of Death." Like junior high theater geeks racing to the bulletin board to see if they got the part they wanted in Rent, those fans and pundits scour each World Cup brackets for the toughest set of four teams. This year, the consensus is that it happens to be Group G, which contains Germany, Portugal, Ghana, and yes... the United States.
No one actually dies playing in the Group of Death, but there are reasons that fans of the American team are kinda bummed about the cards they're dealt. Here's why:
The U.S.'s Weaknesses
Like most sports, soccer is about minimizing your weaknesses and exploiting your strengths. One of the problematic areas for the United States has been their defense and possession — two important factors that have plagued the United States for quite some time. Back in May, the U.S. lost an embarrassing exhibition to Belgium 4-2, displaying a tendency to play down to their competition. "Certainly we will talk about those turnovers, a lot of balls lost too easy and too fast ... Which makes you run behind it and lose energy." USA manager Jurgen Klinsmann said.
The team has played better since then, but the possibility of regressing to that kind of form makes U.S. fans nervous.
Germany Has This Dude...
Mesut Özil is the guy that is projected to give the U.S. fits. Though he has the appearance of a sad muppet, Özil is one of the most talented and creative attacking midfielders in the world.
The good news for the U.S. is that soccer isn't a one-man game. The bad news: Özil has very talented teammates. And he will be orchestrating a stable of talented German attackers and midfielders who will test the U.S. defense and midfield.
The Caveat: Germany is playing the U.S. last in the round-robin group stage and its fate in the World Cup may already be decided when the two teams face off. That could, depending on how everything shakes out, mean that the game could end up meaning very little to the Germans and a lot more to the U.S.
Portugal Has This Dude ...
Cristiano Ronaldo is considered one of the best and most talented players in the world. He makes people look downright foolish sometimes. "If he comes to play the U.S. aren’t going to be able to contain him without using a soccer version of Hack-A-Shaq, and unlike Shaq with free throws, Ronaldo is deadly on free kicks," USA Today's Mike Cardillo explains. U.S. players "Omar Gonzalez, sax or no sax, Matt Besler, DaMarcus Beasley and whomever plays right back aren’t going to hang with Ronaldo if gets to run onto a ball in space," he adds. The rest of Ronaldo's teammates aren't slouches either.
The Caveat: The U.S. will be playing Ronaldo in the city of Manaus. It'll be like playing in a rainforest— humid, hot, and heavy. Maybe he'll get tired or lost or something.
Ghana Has History
Ghana has some major athletes, but the biggest advantage they have over the United States is that they are the team that's knocked the U.S. out of the last two World Cups.
The Caveat: Revenge? Someone on the team has got to be sick of losing to these guys.
The Bright Side
Even with all this bad news, there are some things to look forward to and some things for U.S. fans to hang their hat on:
- Bad haircut ratio. Soccer players inexplicably have the worst hair decisions of any professional sport athletes on the planet. The United States has, far and away, the least embarrassing haircuts of any team in the draw and possess the best ugly haircut-to-sensible haircut ratio of all the World Cup teams.
- The U.S. has improved every single year since the last World Cup (where they played fairly well), and now is the time to put it all on display. If the team wants to be considered the best in the world, it needs to beat the best in the world.
- The U.S. is one of the fittest teams in the world. "These games won’t be won in the first 15 minutes, but they very well could be lost in the final 15. Who is going to be able to keep running on empty in the stifling jungle? Bet on the U.S.," writes USA Today's Matt Foss.
- The U.S. plays better at the end than the beginning. Traditionally, the U.S. hasn't started out strong in its World Cups. They've advanced out of group play in two of the last three World Cups, but each time they did advance they did it by the skin of their teeth. If the team can beat Ghana in that first game, then all bets are off.