Of those three teams, it’s the United States’s draw that incites the least of my frustration.
Search for “world cup draw” on Google, and you’ll find mostly opinions that the U.S. Mens National Team found itself in the group of death, as if there can only be one. But as many pointed out before the draw, the USMNT was not likely to get into an easier group. Coming from Pot 3, the USMNT was at a disadvantage already due to being in the weakest pot. Using ratings from Nate Silver’s Soccer Power Index (SPI), here are the average ratings by each of the four pots:
Since teams from the same pot could not meet in the group stage, the USMNT couldn’t draw any teams from its own pot. Thus it automatically got zero chance at playing some of the weaker teams in the opening round, leaving us praying for one of Switzerland or Belgium from the ranked Pot 1 to ease our path to glory (no such luck). Additionally, all Pot 3 teams got a slightly higher chance of meeting two European teams in the group stages due to that additional UEFA team moving from Pot 4 to Pot 2. Pot 3 teams eluding a European team from Pot 1 may still have gotten Italy or England (I can’t tell which one) from Pot 2. Costa Rica drew the short straw on that one.
If you look at Nate Silver’s ratings, you’ll notice that most Pot 3 teams got pretty raw deals. Below are the chances that each team advances to the knockout round, as well as the average ratings for the other teams in their respective groups. Pot 3 teams are bold and italicized, and data came from Silver’s own model.
Relative to its stature in the world—17th best according to the SPI—the United States drew arguably the second-hardest group of opponents, second only to the Netherlands*. Though the USMNT may be in a group of death, the Netherlands are definitely in the group of death—and on the outside looking in. But it’s our neighbor to the south that draws the most frustration. In terms of average group difficulty, the only North American side to get a relatively decent draw was Mexico. Mexico will just have to be better than Croatia and Cameroon in the group stage. Even after pissing all over themselves in CONCACAF qualifying, the Mexicans now have the easiest path of any Pot 3 team.
The Dutch side is the ninth-best in the tournament by the SPI, and yet it drew two of the best teams in the Cup, Chile and Spain. The Oranje, the team of my birth country, have been left sadly with just a 41-percent chance at making the knockout stage. The Mexican side is ranked 26th in the world, finished fourth in qualifying, and has a better chance to advance than the Netherlands.
*While Australia, Iran and Costa Rica all drew harder opponents on average than the USMNT, they were not as highly ranked themselves as the USMNT. In other words, it was expected that worse teams would get tougher opponents because they don’t get to play themselves.