Michael Bradley and Tim Howard will hope for manageable travel demands during the World Cup in spacious Brazil. (Moises Castillo/AP)
SÃO PAULO — When the World Cup draw happens on Friday in Bahia, the talk will focus mainly on the composition of the eight four-team groups. But while the U.S. will hope to rekindle the luck it had in the last World Cup draw—when it was grouped with the relatively easy England, Slovenia and Algeria—the Americans will also be hoping to have some good fortune again on the travel aspect of the draw.
At World Cup 2010 in South Africa, the U.S. was always able to travel by bus: Or, to be more exact, only 192 miles round-trip from the team base in Pretoria to opening-round games in Rustenburg, Johannesburg and Pretoria itself.
Brazil is a huge country, however, and from its home base here in São Paulo the U.S. will have to travel by plane to its first-round games. Depending on Friday’s draw (ESPN2, 11:30 a.m. ET), the U.S. will have to cover anywhere from 1,946 miles to 8,866 miles round-trip during the opening round alone.
The last time the World Cup took place in a large country — in the U.S. in 1994 — teams had at least two of their three opening-round games in the same venue. (The U.S. played in Detroit, followed by two games in the Los Angeles area.) That’s not the case at World Cup 2014, which will have 12 venues scattered around Brazil.
The venue that nobody wants to draw is Manaus, the World Cup’s Amazon outpost, where the games take place in a different time zone from the rest of the tournament in hot and muggy conditions that will require a 3,340-mile round trip from São Paulo. Like the 23 other unseeded teams, the U.S. has a 29 percent chance of drawing a game in Manaus, the same odds of drawing a game in Recife, Natal, Curitiba, Porto Alegre or Cuiabá.
Meanwhile, all the unseeded teams (including the U.S.) have a 21 percent chance of drawing a first-round game in the bigger-ticket venues of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Fortaleza, Brasília, Salvador or Belo Horizonte (the same city where the U.S. upset England 1-0 in World Cup 1950).
What would be the ideal U.S. draw from a travel perspective? Probably B3, which would involve a “home” game in São Paulo, a game in Rio de Janeiro and just 2,088 travel miles. What would the worst draw be? A tie between D4 and G4, which would include games in Manaus, Recife and Natal and a whopping 8,866 travel miles.
Here are the travel possibilities for the U.S. in Friday’s draw (keeping in mind that the eight seeded teams will fill the 1 spot in each group):
Draw Game 1 Game 2 Game 3 Travel Miles
E2 Brasília Curitiba Rio de Janeiro 1946
H2 Belo Horizonte Porto Alegre Curitiba 2084
B3 Cuiabá Rio de Janeiro São Paulo 2088
H3 Cuiabá Rio de Janeiro Curitiba 2508
H4 Cuiabá Porto Alegre São Paulo 2704
F3 Curitiba Belo Horizonte Salvador 2830
B2 Salvador Porto Alegre São Paulo 2862
B4 Cuiabá Porto Alegre Curitiba 3124
F4 Curitiba Cuiabá Porto Alegre 3124
E3 Porto Alegre Salvador Rio de Janeiro 3304
F2 Rio de Janeiro Cuiabá Salvador 3892
D3 Manaus São Paulo Belo Horizonte 3946
E4 Porto Alegre Curitiba Manaus 4818
A2 São Paulo Manaus Recife 5984
D2 Fortaleza Recife Belo Horizonte 6192
G2 Salvador Manaus Brasília 6228
C2 Belo Horizonte Natal Fortaleza 6430
C3 Recife Brasília Fortaleza 6670
G3 Natal Fortaleza Brasília 6908
C4 Recife Natal Cuiabá 7172
A4 Natal Manaus Brasília 7306
A3 Natal Fortaleza Recife 8468
D4 Manaus Recife Natal 8866
G4 Natal Manaus Recife 8866