The one stat that will make U.S. soccer fans even happier

The one stat that will make U.S. soccer fans even happier

Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Jun 16, 2014; Natal, BRAZIL; USA fans cheer in the grandstands after a USA goal in the first half against Ghana during the 2014 World Cup at Estadio das Dunas.



Posted on June 17, 2014 at 3:00 PM

If history is any indication, the United States clinched its spot in the knockout round of the 2014 World Cup after its opening win over Ghana on Monday night.

The U.S. has played nine World Cups prior to this year’s tournament in Brazil. In the four in which the U.S. won or tied its opening game, the team went on to qualify for the elimination-stage of the tournament. In the five World Cups the U.S. opened with a loss, the men’s national team failed to advance. It’s simple math: Win (or tie) the opener and you’re in. Lose and you’re out.

United States World Cup opening game historical results

1930 — beat Belgium (3-0), advanced to semifinals

1934 — lost to Italy, eliminated immediately (the 1934 World Cup was a single-elimination tournament)

1950 — lost to Spain, eliminated in group stage

1954 — lost to Czechoslovakia, eliminated in group stage

1994 — tied Switzerland, advanced to round of 16

1998 — lost to Germany, eliminated in group stage

2002 — beat Portugal, advanced to quarterfinals

2006 — lost to Czech Republic, eliminated in group stage

2010 — tied England, advanced to round of 16

2014 — beat Ghana, ???

The current projections support the precedent, but it’s more of a toss-up than the long lens of history would like to suggest. After the win, the odds of the U.S. advancing to the knockout stage are now 67% according to FiveThirtyEight’s projections. That’s up from 36% prior to the tournament.

How many times do teams that win or tie openers fail to advance? It’s more common than you might think. In the 2010 World Cup, five teams that won or tied their openers failed to advance to the round of 16. In 2006, the number was six.

Of course, none of this has any bearing on U.S. chances of surviving the Group of Death. Even with Nate Silver’s optimistic odds, there’s still a 1-in-3 chance Team USA doesn’t advance. And what happened in 1930 obviously doesn’t affect what happens in 2014. Heck, what happened in 2010 doesn’t either.

But all of this is better than figuring out what would have happened after a loss to Ghana, isn’t it?