The USA were drawn in one of the toughest of all the World Cup groups as they came up against Germany, Ghana and Portugal. The draw pits coach Jürgen Klinsmann against his home country and sees the USA open their campaign against the Ghana side who ended their World Cup hopes in the second round of the 2010 tournament.
On Friday morning, a few hundred fans and journalists braved the freezing cold to attend a draw party at Sporting Park, Kansas City, site of Saturday's MLS Cup final, for a watch party also attended by several US national team members, including Clint Dempsey and Omar Gonzalez, as well as internationals from the competing MLS Cup finalists Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake.
As the draw unfolded, there were cheers and sharp inhales of breath in the room as Mexico drew Brazil, though any schadenfreude swiftly turned to groans as Honduras landed in the softer group of Switzerland, Ecuador and France, and the USA's last hopes of a softer landing faded.
When the USA were finally drawn against Germany and an opening game against their World Cup nemesis Ghana, there was a general air of resignation that fate would bring Klinsmann's team up against those two, but there was still a further sting in the tale when Portugal, and Cristiano Ronaldo, appeared as the final team in one of the undoubted groups of death of the tournament.
As a further challenge, Group G also gives the USA the toughest travel schedule of any of the teams in the tournament – over 9,000 miles, including a game against Portugal in the humidity of the Amazon.
Beforehand, as fans repeatedly reloaded online draw simulators, there certainly seemed to be very few paths towards a sympathetic draw such as the England, Slovenia, Algeria draw the USA landed in 2010. But even so, few anticipated quite such a tough group as the USA were eventually handed. As ESPN pundit and former player Alexi Lalas put it afterwards: "They are under the underdog role."
Nevertheless the players present at the draw party were sanguine about the outcome. Clint Dempsey called the draw "one of the toughest groups, I think," but also relished the task of an opening game against Ghana, claiming "we're overdue a win."
Asked about the prospect of all the travel, Dempsey seemed to suggest the USA may actually be better prepared than some of their opponents:
I know that during the summer we did a good job of trying to replicate that, and having some difficult locations – trying to get from Jamaica all the way up to Seattle, Washington, into Utah, to Salt Lake, stuff like that. So we tried to replicate that travel and quick turnarounds and getting the job done and being able to get back to form. And I thought we did a good job of that this summer.
Matt Besler, the young Sporting Kansas City central defender, who will play in the MLS Cup final on Saturday, and has made a surprise run into a starting position for the national team, also felt that Klinsmann's choice of playing tough friendlies whenever possible would stand his team in good stead:
"I think that was the mindset of why we scheduled hard friendlies for situations like this. The year that we've had in the past year. I feel that the team's mentality is one that we can go and play with anybody. Now we're going to have to prove it."
As for the travel, Besler felt that the team's increasing number of MLS players would be well prepared for it: "That was something that we were aware of before. We all knew that the travel was going to be a topic. It's not an issue for us. We travel all the time in MLS and even Concacaf."
Asked what he thought about his opposing scouts for the team's prospective opponents targetting him as part of a young central defense partnership with Omar Gonzalez, Besler seemed equally unfazed: "I'm excited if people are saying that, or questioning it, I'm excited to prove them wrong."
Kyle Beckerman, the Real Salt Lake captain who will line up against Besler in Saturday's MLS Cup final and may end up in the World Cup squad with him, also wanted to talk up the possibility of the other teams underestimating both the US squad, and the conditions they will face:
"Against European teams it could be an advantage. I think Europe's 50 degrees with a little mist! And we're used to playing against Dallas in July and Houston, when no matter when it is, it's hot. So there could be some advantages."
Despite the defiant tone, all the players were realistic about the scale of the task ahead, though there was also a degree of relief that the speculation was over. As the party broke up Dempsey was looking forward:
It's going to be what it's going to be. You don't hope for anything because you can't control it. So once you know that's what the draw is, you've got to prepare and work hard and make sure you've put yourself in the best position to get out of the group...if we play our best ball we can get out of the group … looking at that group you've got to think it's going to go down to the last game for everybody.