Updated on Saturday, December 7 with the time change for kickoff of the U.S.-Portugal game.
The World Cup draw went about as badly as it could have for the United States. Jurgen Klinsmann's team was put in Group G with Ghana, Germany and Portugal.
Faced with perhaps the toughest group the Americans have ever faced, Klinsmann maintained his perpetually sunny disposition. He refusesd to call his team an underdog, even if the rest of the world disagres.
"It couldn't get any more difficult or any bigger," Klinsmann said in an interview with ESPN immediately after the draw. "But that's what a World Cup is about - it's a real challenge and we'll take it. We'll take it on and hopefully we're going to surprise some people there."
Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and company will open their trip to Brazil with a game against Ghana - the team that has knocked the Yanks out of the last two World Cups. After that, there will be a game against Portugal, led by Cristiano Ronaldo - perhaps the best player in the World Cup right now. The group stage will conclude with a game against Germany, perhaps the best team in Europe right now.
Germany is also, of couse, Klinsmann's native country. He earned 108 caps for Die Nationalmannschaft, scoring 47 goals. 28 appearance and nine of those goals came with West Germany, before the Berlin Wall fell. He was part of the West Germany team that won the 1990 World Cup, and played for the unified nation in 1994 and 1998.
The star forward admitted that facing Ghana yet again will give the team what he called "a chance for a little bit of revenge."
"We were hard done by" in past games against the Black Stars, Dempsey continued. "We've got to make sure that we get the job done, but I think Lady Luck should be on our side."
Overall, Dempsey said, "we're going to have to be at our best to get out of the group, and that's what it's all about."
Here are some more U.S. player reactions via Twitter. First up is Michael Bradley, who took over the U.S. Soccer Federation's official account during the draw:
Goalkeeper Tim Howard was on the ESPN handle during the draw:
As for the rest of the team ...
Your instinct might tell you that Germany and Portugal are the favorites to advance from the group, with Ghana a more likely dark horse than the United States. But check out these odds from ESPN's Soccer Power Index:
That's a better scenario than a lot of people expected when FIFA secretary general Jérôme Valcke held up the little piece of paper with Portugal's name on it.
Right now, this will be the U.S.' group stage schedule, with all times Eastern:
Monday, June 16: vs. Ghana at Natal, 6:00 p.m.
Sunday, June 22: vs. Portugal at Manaus, 6:00 p.m.
Thursday, June 26: vs. Germany at Recife, 12:00 p.m.
In addition to the tough opponents, the U.S. will face the longest travel schedule of any of the 32 teams in the tournament. Natal and Recife are near each other on Brazil's eastern seaboard, but those games are separated by a trip to Manaus, a city in the northwest corner of the Amazon rainforest. And all three venues are far from the Americans' planned base in São Paulo. There's a map on FIFA's website here.
According to Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl, the Americans will travel a total of 8,866 miles during the group stage.
Personally, I think the U.S. is in big trouble. Jurgen Klinsmann has tried hard to raise the quality of the national team during his tenure, both with his words and with his tactics. But if he really wants to prove that things are better than they were in the past, he has to beat Ghana. Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley couldn't do it, and they're the two best coaches this country has ever produced.
With that said, if the U.S. does beat Ghana, Portugal will be under a lot of pressure after playing Germany. It will be an ideal situation for the Yanks to try to snatch a point. If the U.S. ties Ghana, they'll have to beat Portugal and potentially get a point against Germany as well.
Ideally, you'd want the U.S. to get four points from the first two games and hope that Germany wins its first two games. That would likely mean that Germany would already be qualified for the knockout round when the U.S. faces them.
And let there be no doubt: the Germans are among the truly elite teams headed to Brazil. They, along with the hosts, Argentina and Spain are by far the four favorites to win it all. No European team has ever won a World Cup played in the Americas. Germany is good enough to make history next year.
Of course, any big challenge is also a big opportunity. I like this strong take from Daily News columnist John Smallwood, who wants to see the U.S. step up and prove itself against the big boys.