Forecasts and chances of the United States for participation in the World Cup in Qatar

As the US men’s team learned their way to the World Cup on April 1st, almost everyone chose the first game against Wales as a mandatory win. Wales, who had not qualified for the World Cup since 1964, were considered arguably the most defeated team in the group.

But it wasn’t just that: since the World Cup expanded to 32 teams in 1998, a whopping 84% of the teams that won their first group stage game ended up in the playoffs.

Now that the USMNT failed to pull off that win, instead settling for a draw on Monday with Wales to open the 2022 World Cup, what are their chances of moving forward? Is their match against England on Friday a must win or do they still have some wiggle room?

Predictions: what projection models will see after the US draw

Before the tournament FiveThirtyEight Football Power Index gave USMNT a 53% chance of reaching the World Championship playoffs. Now that they opened the tournament with a draw against Wales, their chances have dropped to 45%.

Note that the SPI FiveThirtyEight gives Wales the worst odds of just 37%. According to them, prognosis is a measurement of “the overall strength of the team”, where both attack and defense are presented as two key components. Based on this, SPI is not so confident in the Wales team.

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In the rest of Group B, England have a whopping 93% chance of promotion following their impressive 6-2 victory over Iran on Monday, according to SPI. Iran has only 25% chance of success.

However, the other models weren’t as interested in USMNT’s chances of making it out of the group from the start. Alan Turing Institute in London, for example, gave the USMNT only a 36.1% chance of making the playoffs before the tournament even started. The model has not been updated since the USMNT held talks with Wales on Monday, but we are confident that the outcome has not improved those odds.

Betting: what, according to bookmakers, will be next for the USA

USMNT’s odds of winning Group B have dipped since the draw with Wales, dropping from +10,000 to +12,500, but bookies still seem to think the Americans are likely to exit the group stage at -115, according to FanDuel.

Before the match in Wales, USMNT was at -118, which means that the bookmakers’ confidence was strong at the start of the tournament and is still high after Monday’s draw with Wales.

Gregg Berhalter and company’s immediate concern is that England appear to be a strong favorite in their -175 matchup on Friday. According to Caesars Sportsbook, even a draw (+290) is more likely than a US win (+490).

It seems that betting that USMNT will make the playoffs is still not too risky, but besides that, be careful. USMNT opened at Caesars 100-1 (or +10000) to win the World Cup but have now dropped to +12500 meaning their long odds are even better.

Clinch Scenarios: How Many Points Does the US Need?

Now it’s time to put on your thinking caps because we’re about to do small piece mathematics.

USMNT is currently up one point after a draw with Wales and between the upcoming games against England and Iran they can take up to six more points in the group stage, with each win worth three points. This means that USMNT’s best-case scenario right now is to finish the group stage with seven points.

Here’s where anything less than the full number of points available would place USMNT:

6 points: With a one-point draw and three-point wins, the USMNT can’t actually earn exactly six points anymore, but it’s good historical context: no team in World Cup history has been eliminated from a group stage if they’ve earned at least six points.

5 points: Also almost a guarantee of a knockout. According to ESPN Stats & Info, in the current four-team group stage format, no team has earned five points and failed to advance. A total of 77 teams qualified for the playoffs with five points.

4 points: This is where promotion becomes something of a toss-up. According to ESPN Stats & Info, 17 of the 33 World Cup teams with four points have qualified from the group stage in the tournament’s current format. With just one draw and a win, USMNT’s path to the playoffs will depend a lot on other outcomes in this scenario.

For example, at the last World Cup 2018, two teams with four points left the group (Argentina, Japan), and two (Iran, Senegal) did not. Notably, the two teams with four points, Japan and Senegal, ended up in the same group. Thus, a “fair play” tie-break—the team with fewer yellow and red cards in the group stage—determined who advanced after they were still tied on goal difference and goals scored.

3 points: If the USMNT draws all three of their games at this World Championship, a playoff appearance is highly unlikely. Of the 31 teams that finished the group stages with three points in the current format, only one has ever moved forward, according to ESPN statistics and information. That one occasion came in 1998, when Chile managed to finish behind Italy, who took seven points in Group B, ahead of Austria and Cameroon, who finished just two points each.

2 points or less: The USMNT World Cup would have come to an end.

World Cup History: US Odds Based on Past Trends

As we dig into the history of the World Championships, let’s start with this: Since 1998, 59% of first-game tie teams have still made the playoffs, according to ESPN statistics and information. These are 27 out of 46 teams that came out after the starting draw.

USMNT would of course prefer to win and be part of the 84% of teams that win their first group game and take the lead, but at least they didn’t lose to Wales. Only 11% of teams that lose their first World Cup game make it to the playoffs.

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Luis Miguel Echegaray says he would choose Brenden Aaronsohn over Christian Pulisic in a US vs. England clash.

Trends matter, but there is no guarantee that history will repeat itself at the World Cup. Who can forget in 2010 when Spain lost their first World Cup due to a shock upset by Switzerland? Spain immediately corrected course and won the tournament, albeit by a narrow margin.

Then comes the 1966 World Cup and the England team facing the USA in the second group game. England started with a goalless draw with Uruguay, at home on English soil, but they bounced back to eventually win the tournament. The World Cup was then much smaller, with 16 teams compared to 32 now, but England still overcame less than ideal odds.

It is also worth highlighting the 1982 World Cup and victorious Italy. The format was also different from what we see today with just 24 teams competing, but Italy didn’t win a single game in the four-team group stage and still won that World Cup. Three draws in favor of Italy, and they continued.

On the other hand, perhaps it would be better for the Americans if history repeats itself: the USA reached the playoffs of the 1/8 finals at the 2010 World Cup after a draw in the first match with England. It is clear that hope is not yet lost—at least not historically.

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