Does the United States have a realistic chance of becoming one of the eight top group seeds at the World Cup 2014 draw?
That’s the most important question for the U.S. when it comes to the draw on Dec. 6 in Bahia. And now we’ve crunched the numbers to provide an answer: Nope. As helpful as it would be for the U.S. to get a top seed (and avoid the other top seeds in the group stage), the chances are so slim that I’ll run naked through the streets of Manhattan if it ends up happening.
Let’s break it down. Last week FIFA announced it would use the order from the October world rankings -- the ones that come out after the games over the next week -- to decide the seven teams that will join host Brazil as the top group seeds. Currently the U.S. is No. 13 in the rankings. But what if the U.S. (which has already qualified for Brazil) wins both its games this week against Jamaica and at Panama?
Even if that happens, the U.S. is likely to fall from No. 13 to No. 14, overtaking Greece but being overtaken by England and Switzerland. In that case, the Americans would have to hope that six teams above them would fail to qualify for the World Cup in order to get a top seed. And that’s basically impossible.
Here’s how the rankings are likely to look after this week (even if the U.S. wins both games):
|Ranking||Country||Likely Points||Likely Results||Range of Possible Points|
|1||Spain||1513||W vs. Belarus (H)
W vs. Georgia (H)
|2||Argentina||1266||W vs. Peru (H)
L vs. Uruguary (A)
|3||Germany||1230||W vs. Ireland (H)
T vs. Sweden (A)
|4||Colombia||1190||W vs. Chile (H)
T vs. Paraguay (A)
|5||Italy||1178||T vs. Denmark (A)
W vs. Armenia (H)
|6||Uruguay||1164||L vs. Ecuador (A)
W vs. Argentina (H)
|7||Croatia||1149||W vs. Belgium (H)
W vs. Scotland (A)
|8||Brazil||Automatic seed as host|
|9||Belgium||1107||L vs. Croatia (A)
W vs. Wales (H)
|10||Portugal||1096||W vs. Israel (H)
W vs. Luxembourg (H)
|11||England||1080||W vs. Montenegro (H)
W vs. Poland (H)
|12||Netherlands||1067||W vs. Hungary (H)
T vs. Turkey (A)
|13||Switzerland||1052||T vs. Albania (A)
W vs. Slovenia (H)
|14||USA||1040||W vs. Jamaica (H)
W vs. Panama (A)
|15||Chile||1013||L vs. Colombia (A)
W vs. Ecuador (H)
|16||Greece||983||W vs. Slovakia (H)
W vs. Liechtenstein (H)
|17||Russia||926||W vs. Luxembourg (A)
W vs. Azerbaijan (A)
What should U.S. fans hope for over the next month for the U.S. to somehow get a top seed?
• The U.S. needs to win its games at home against Jamaica and away at Panama.
• England can’t win both home games this week against Montenegro and Poland.
• Switzerland needs to get fewer than four points away at Albania and at home against Slovenia.
• The Netherlands (who are already qualified) need to get fewer than four points away at Turkey and at home against Hungary.
• Chile can’t win both its games: at Colombia and at home against Ecuador.
• Uruguay (the most likely South American team to be in the intercontinental playoff) must be upset by Jordan.
• Croatia and Portugal have to be upset in their UEFA playoffs and fail to make the World Cup.
Time to cue up Lloyd from Dumb and Dumber: "So you’re telling me there’s a chance!"
Other takes on the World Cup seed picture:
• The Croatia-Belgium qualifier Friday in Zagreb could have a huge impact on World Cup seeds. No matter what happens in that game, Belgium is still in the driver’s seat to win the group and the automatic World Cup bid that comes with it. But if Croatia wins Friday, it would be in a dynamite position to take a seed at Belgium’s expense (as long as Croatia were to go on and win its UEFA playoff in November).
• As a team that’s unlikely to get a World Cup seed, the Netherlands is going to be a team nobody wants to draw from a European unseeded pot.
• We’re likely to see four South American teams among the eight seeded teams: Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia.
• A bit more explanation of the World Cup draw: Only one pot at the draw is likely to contain seeded teams. (There is no pot of “No. 2 seeds.”) All the other teams will be put in different draw pots based on geography. In other words, all the CONCACAF teams will be in one pot, potentially with all the African teams.
More U.S. soccer-related notes:
• The Columbus Crew is still looking to hire a full-time coach for next year, and I’ve learned that Brad Friedel went to Ohio during last month’s international window and spoke to the club as a candidate for the head coaching job. Friedel is from Ohio and played for the Crew, and he already has his UEFA B coaching license with his A license on the way. If Columbus’ interest continues, the Crew would have to buy Friedel out of the last half-year of his Tottenham contract for him to take over in time for the start of next season’s training camp.
• My seven-page story on Bob Bradley and the Egyptian national team is in the new issue of Sports Illustrated. It’s a remarkable situation: In the midst of a national political crisis and the suspension of the domestic league, Bradley’s Egypt is the only team in the world that is perfect in World Cup qualifying.
Egypt faces Ghana in its first African playoff game next Tuesday, and I was with Bradley in Cairo last month when Egypt had the bad luck of drawing the powerful Ghanaians. As part of a video montage before the draw, Asamoah Gyan’s goal that knocked the U.S. out of the last World Cup played on the screen. Bradley told me he has thought about that game “many, many times.” Now he has a chance to get some revenge and lead Egypt to its first World Cup since 1990. If he can do that, Bradley will be a national hero.
You can read my complete story on Bradley on Wednesday on SI.com.
• On Friday the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame will induct new members Joe-Max Moore and Peter Vermes, with fellow Hall of Famer Eric Wynalda giving the induction speech for Moore in Kansas City. Sadly, the building that housed the Hall of Fame in Oneonta, N.Y., closed in 2010 due to finances, and most of the artifacts are currently being stored in a North Carolina warehouse owned by Eurosport. U.S. Soccer tells me restarting a Hall of Fame building would take at least $10 million in start-up costs and $2 million in annual operating costs. I’m told there has been lukewarm interest but nothing serious enough to make significant progress.