World Cup: USMNT legends look back on previous draws with Brazil 2014 groups hours from being set

With another World Cup Draw almost upon us, we asked five former US national team stars and World Cup veterans to assign a “degree of difficulty” to each of the groups the USMNT has been drawn into since 1990.

Our panel includes:

  • Jeff Agoos, a member of the 1998 and 2002 teams
  • John Harkes, a member of the 1990 and 1994 teams
  • Alexi Lalas, a member of the 1994 and 1998 teams
  • Eddie Lewis, a member of the 2002 and 2006 teams
  • Tony Meola, a member of the 1990, 1994 and 2002 teams

Each panel member rated the groups on a scale from 1-5 with 1 "extremely difficult" and 5 as "easy as it gets."

1990: Czechoslovakia, Italy, Austria

Jeff Agoos: 3

Our first World Cup in 40 years. No matter who the opponent, it was always going to be a challenge.

John Harkes (pictured right): 1

Most difficult situation because of the length of absence from the World Cup stage, coupled with the inexperienced player pool consisting of college and indoor players. Czechoslovakia was a humbling experience (5-1 defeat). Great response and belief in ourselves vs. Italy; had been predicted as bad as an 11-0 loss, but we kept it close at 1-0. Austria was the game in which we should have done better. I believe we created enough and should have actually won that match.

Eddie Lewis: 1

The US was just happy to be there. Additionally the tournament was on European soil with the host nation in our group. It was always going to be three and out.

Alexi Lalas: 1

Bunch of college kids out of their depth. A US team with no experience and still emerging young talent. They never had a chance.

Tony Meola: 1

Three very good European teams, including the host country. Couple that with an average age of 22.3, and it was going to be difficult. We learned more about World Cups as a country this year than any other.

1994: Switzerland, Colombia, Romania

Jeff Agoos: 3

Colombia had one of the best teams in the world at that time with Valderrama, Rincon and Asprilla leading the way. Pressure to get out of the group as a host.

John Harkes: 3

Being the host makes you feel more comfortable. We were familiar with the travel, etc. The expectations were high for teams like Colombia and Romania, and we were a team that wasn’t expected to do too much.

Alexi Lalas: 3

Two solid European teams and a South American tournament favorite, but made easier by third-place teams still being able to go through.

Eddie Lewis (pictured right): 2

Our squad was still very inexperienced, but we knew the European teams would have difficulty in the heat. Being the host nation is a tremendous advantage as well.

Tony Meola: 2

Colombia was picked by many to be among the final four standing at the end. Switzerland and Romania were very good. Two huge advantages for US. First, we were home. Second, there were wild cards.

1998: Germany, Iran, Yugoslavia

Jeff Agoos (pictured right): 2

Germany and Yugoslavia were two of the best teams in the world at the time with the Cup being held in Europe.

John Harkes: 2

Lost all three, and finished last in tourney. Germany was strong once again. The US battled with Iran, but lost out on the counter, and Yugoslavia were very organized and talented.

Eddie Lewis: 3

The tournament was on European soil, which is always a challenge. Would have taken a very united American squad to get out of that group.

Alexi Lalas: 3

Germany was a fading machine, but Yugoslavia still had the strength, history and mystique of unity. Iran I can't even bear to talk about.

Tony Meola: 3

I almost forgot the '98 World Cup happened! Germany was OK, but Yugoslavia was the best team in group for me. was over by then. To many team "issues" made it difficult to go through, as well as some strange player decisions and a late tactical change to a 3-6-1.

2002: Portugal, South Korea, Poland

Jeff Agoos: 2

Coming off our worst World Cup performance, we drew Portugal, who had the likes of Figo, Pauleta, etc. That combined with the host country meant a very difficult group.

John Harkes: 3

Again, a very unkind draw with top form Portugal, co-host South Korea (always difficult playing the host) and an up-and-coming Poland team. Up 3-0 in the first 31 minutes against Portugal was a huge emotional sign of hope for the US.

Alexi Lalas: 3

Portugal's "Golden Generation" was made of tin, but playing the frenzied hosts and a solid Poland team wasn't easy.

Eddie Lewis: 2

The tournament's unfamiliar location and lack of real soccer history and culture leveled the playing field for us. We knew the heat would again hurt the European teams. Drawing the host nation is always a challenge, but the fact that they weren't a soccer powerhouse helped.

Tony Meola (pictured right): 3

This was, in my opinion, the best team we've ever put in a World Cup. Portugal couldn't match our mentality and physical ability. We had the characters to deal with playing the hosts. Korean fans made CONCACAF fans look like they were on a siesta. Poland was solid as well.  

2006: Czech Republic, Italy, Ghana

Jeff Agoos: 2

One of the toughest groups we have faced, with Czech Republic holding a top-10 FIFA ranking along with Italy and our new bogey team: Ghana!

John Harkes: 2

Italy finished as winners, and Ghana had shown how strong and individually talented they were. The Czech Republic were thriving, showing well in qualification rounds, and continued to show why they are a always a difficult opponent. The US had represented extremely well in 2002 and had some confidence, but the draw would be a difficult one indeed.

Alexi Lalas: 2

The Czech Republic were at their peak, Italy went on to win and Ghana was one of the few team that could physically boss the US.

Eddie Lewis: 2

On paper, it was a tough draw. With the tournament in Germany, every team was comfortable. The Czech Republic was the strongest team on paper and were an outsider to win the World Cup. They were sent home early along with us.

Tony Meola: 2

The Czech Republic was as technically good as any team in the Cup. Italy, obvious! Ghana, like many African teams, was not a good matchup at all for the US. They had too many players that could beat you with athleticism on a single play.

2010: England, Slovenia, Algeria

Jeff Agoos: 4

England had the names but were a below average team overall.  In my opinion, the "easiest" of all the groups since 1990. Was this actually the “group of life?”

John Harkes: 5

Draw was still hard, but hopeful. England would always be a difficult opponent in the first round and were the favorites of the group. Slovenia and Algeria both represented well in qualification. Unknowns make it very hard to size up. Bob Bradley and the US did better than most expected (not me) and won the group.

Alexi Lalas: 4

Said it at the time, this was the easiest group the US ever drew. England were paper lions, and the US were simply better than Slovenia/Algeria.

Eddie Lewis: 4

The tournament being in South Africa was very similar to 2002. All the teams were slightly out of their comfort zone, which helps the weaker teams. It was a great draw for us and not getting out of the group would have been disappointing.   

Tony Meola: 4

Slovenia was best team in group. We will take this group in '14 for sure.


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