The United States was humiliated in the 1998 World Cup finals in France, finishing dead last in the 32-team standings. The U.S. soccer team was eliminated in the first round, after scoring only one goal in its three losses. American fans could be in for another rough ride at the upcoming World Cup in South Korea and Japan.
Soccer fans in the United States are looking for better things in 2002. But international football commentator Derek Rae says despite popular opinion, the draw was not good to the USA, which will play its first round games in South Korea.
"Among American fans there is an unrealistic sense of what might happen at the World Cup Finals," he said. "Most people felt it was a good draw for the United States, but I think that you have three teams there who could well beat the USA."
The Americans were drawn into Group D for first round play with Portugal, South Korea and Poland, and Rae says they will have a difficult task.
"I would not be surprised if the Americans return home without a point or maybe just one point," he said. "The way the schedule works for them is very awkward, with [fifth-ranked] Portugal in the first game. Then they come up against the host nation and that's always difficult. And then Poland and people are saying to me, Poland's the game they can win, but it might not mean anything at that stage," he said.
Despite his pessimism about the Americans' chances of advancing, Derek Rae says the team has improved since 1998. "Some of the young players are coming through. Landon Donovan is excellent, Clint Mathis can score goals," he said. "Can he do it at the highest level? They're coming out of CONCACAF, and we really don't know how strong CONCACAF is."
The Americans finished third in the the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football region with five wins, three losses and two draws. They'll need a second place finish in their World Cup group to reach the second round.