When it comes to the World Cup, so much of a national team's successes and failures are determined some seven months before the first ball is even kicked on the field of play.
Instead, it comes down to a handful of ex-professional superstars, a few crazy dance numbers and 32 ping-pong balls in a bucket. The three other teams drawn into your group go just as far to determining how far you may advance as how talented, in form and tightly knit your 23-man roster is.
End up with two European superpowers in your group (there are 12 European nations that qualify, so they can't all be seeded in Pot 1), and youre probably in trouble. Luck out and draw the weakest Pot 1 team, then don't get one of the darkhorses from Pots 2 or 3, and it doesn't matter nearly as much when you draw the Netherlands, Italy, France or Portugal from Pot 4.
At least, that's the thinking after spending a few hours playing with the latest Internet craze last night: the 2014 World Cup group stage draws simulator. (Warning: simulator is addicting and depressing at the same time.)
Those are the three draws that came up in my first three simulations today. Of the three, the US national team probably has the best chance to get out of the second group they're drawn into, but even that won't be easy. Uruguay are aguably the worst of the Pot 1 teams — along with Switzerland — but drawing the Netherlands from Pot 4 is pretty much as bad as it gets. Last-minute heroics against Algeria might be required again.
Basically, it's going to be impossible for the USMNT to land in an "easy" group where advancement is all but certain at the December 6 draw in Bahia, Brazil. Sure, this is the World Cup, so it's not supposed to be easy.
But even in 2010, South Korea advanced with four points from a group that featured Argentina, because Nigeria and Greece were terrible. Paraguay, Slovakia, New Zealand and Italy — how did the Italians finish last in that group? And the USMNT's group was now infamously dubbed "E.A.S.Y" by the English press, which it should have been for England.
Looking back now, much of the 2010 World Cup was a bore in comparison to past tournaments. Judging by the teams that have already qualified and are likely to do so between now and December 6, the 2014 spectacle will provide much more entertainment and drama from day one of the group stage all the way to the World Cup final.
This is arguably the best USMNT ever, but they are heading into the best World Cup field ever.