The 2022 World Cup draw was held on Friday and the United States landed in Group B. The path in front of the Americans does have its land mines, but there is a solid chance to make the knockout rounds if they play up to their potential.
The U.S. has been grouped with England, Iran and either Wales, Scotland or Ukraine -- one of those three teams will win a spot in a playoff. U.S. fans should be pulling for Scotland to emerge from that latter group for the easiest path. The Americans should feel pretty good about the opponents they will face. They also got the best draw out of the three (and likely four) CONCACAF teams.
England will enter the World Cup as one of the tournament's favorites. After a run to the finals of Euro 2022 and a dominant, undefeated performance to win Group I in UEFA World Cup qualifying, the Three Lions are flying high. In 10 qualifying matches, England scored 39 goals and surrendered three. Yes, the English were in a terribly weak group, but they did what they had to do and are currently the fifth-ranked team in the world. That is the only match where the Americans will be decisive underdogs.
Iran won't be a walkover, even for an uber-talented U.S. squad. But the Americans should be favored in that matchup and should feel good about winning it.
Wales, Ukraine and Scotland would each present challenges, but none of those teams was particularly good at the Euros last summer. Scotland only secured one point in the group stage and was -4 on goal differential, Wales earned four points in the group stage and advanced thanks to a +1 goal differential. Ukraine had three points in its group and was the final team to qualify for the knockouts.
In the Round of 16, Wales was smoked 4-0 by Denmark, while Ukraine managed to beat Sweden 2-1 thanks to a miracle goal by Artem Dovbyk in the 121st minute. The Ukrainians were then hammered 4-0 by England in the quarterfinals, with three of those goals coming after halftime. Neither Wales nor Ukraine was particularly impressive during the tournament despite advancing to the knockout stage.
No matter which of those three teams emerges from the European playoff, it's clear that will be the matchup the U.S.'s World Cup hinges on. And it will be the first game the American's play. So on the night of November 21, we should have a really good idea of how the tournament will go for the U.S. The Americans then face England on November 25, before finishing up group play against Iran on November 29.
In the end, each game in this group will be winnable, but each presents challenges. And, frankly, that's how it should be in the World Cup. This is a completely fair draw and U.S. has nothing to complain about. That can't be said for the other CONCACAF teams.
Mexico will have to face Argentina and an excellent Poland squad in Group C. Canada has to deal with Belgium and Croatia in Group F, both of whom reached the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup. And should Costa Rica beat New Zealand on June 14 to advance to the tournament, it will join Group E, which features Spain and Germany.
Comparatively, the United States is sitting pretty, as the soccer gods have smiled upon them to a degree.
Can the U.S. feel good about reaching the knockout rounds? Well, a lot will depend on health. A team led by Christian Pulisic and featuring Weston McKennie, Tim Weah, Yunus Musah, Gio Reyna, Tyler Adams, Sergiño Dest, Antonee Robinson and more, should feel good about the way it can perform. If the roster is in good health, the only real concern will be finding a viable striker.
The U.S.'s search for a true No. 9 has been the story of World Cup qualifying. At various times, different players have appeared to be the answer before disappearing. Ricardo Pepi looked to be the guy a few months ago before entering a massive goal drought. Jordan Pefok looks the part but has yet to put it all together consistently. The 21-year-old Jesus Ferreira has promise but isn't proven. Josh Sargent has seemed to fall out of favor, while Daryl Dike has yet to blossom despite having all the tools.
If the U.S. can stay healthy and find someone to put the ball in the back of the net, it can certainly advance out of Group B. The path is there.