Defining Success in Germany by Defining Failure
Just a quick post on the World Cup Draw, which I would probably have to write more on if this were a general US Soccer Blog. Initial reactions from WCiS, The Dawg, Mike H., and the like are all along the "Ouch, tough group, but let's get out anyways" variety. But really, if the US doesn't make it out of the group stage, considering the competition, does that mean the USA didn't succeed? I don't think so.
There's a concept in linguistics or some such field that you can define a word through its inversion. In other words, the word "dog" means the opposite of all those things that don't mean "dog." Similarly, I think the best way to evaluate a successful 2006 campaign is to define failure for the USA first. Expectations are higher for this team that at any point in recent memory based on the '02 results, and rightfully so. Just making it to the World Cup, and then getting shelled by the other teams, making us pack up our kits in our Steve Sampsonite luggage for the plane ride back would be a failure. We've got to get a few results. Puttings aside the FIFA Coked Up world ratings for a moment, and looking at the ELO ratings for the teams gives us the following picture:
Czech Republic (#5, 1931 rating)
Italy (#7, 1909 rating)
USA (#14, 1820 rating)
Ghana (#56, 1597 rating)
Expectations dictate that we should get 3 from Ghana. Getting one point from the other two games is also possible. So that's the line for me. 4 points. Anything less and the World Cup is a failure. 4 points (1-1-1) is acceptable, but not really a cause for joy. 5 points or more and I'm ready to say that the US has taken a step forward again. The sad thing is that 5 points, a situation we get only where no team beats the US (1-0-2), might not be enough to advance if we see a situation where there's a three way tie at the top of the group with 5 points. Then we're down to tiebreakers. Still, if the US doesn't advance and gets 5, then I think Bruce Arena and the team can hold their heads high coming home. If we somehow advance to the group stage with 4 points, I'm willing to give that a tenative successful designation.
So that's the expectation level: 4 points. 5 is success. 3 is failure. Plan your feelings accordingly.