At this point, your brain is probably fried from trying to calculate all of the scenarios that the U.S. could potentially face when the World Cup draw is announced on Friday.
Due to the number of strong teams in this World Cup -- and the system FIFA will use to fill the eight groups -- there likely won't be any easy path to the knockout stage for the United States.
The Americans' chances of being placed in a cupcake quartet alongside Switzerland, Algeria and Greece are frighteningly slim. The odds of getting the easiest potential route to the knockout rounds are stacked against them.
The good news?
It's unlikely that the U.S. gets the worst possible draw, either, although it is almost guaranteed a difficult slate.
No matter how you slice it, the margin between the U.S. getting, say, Argentina, Ivory Coast and the Netherlands -- as close to a doomsday scenario as there is -- and a more manageable foursome will be minuscule.
It all comes down to the matchups, then. And it isn't quite as obvious as it may seem.
First off, the U.S. doesn’t necessarily want Switzerland.
Sure, the Swiss are easily the weakest of the eight seeded nations, and not surprisingly, they have appeared in many best-case projections. But there's a problem with that. While Switzerland is undoubtedly the seed Jurgen Klinsmann's team is best-equipped to beat, the same goes for the other two members of the group. So a schedule containing Switzerland, France and Ecuador could actually be tougher than one featuring Brazil, Cameroon and Russia.
That's right: Facing the hosts may not be a bad thing.
Realistically, the U.S. is expected to lose to the group favorite -- which is fine as long as everyone else loses to them, too.
It would shock nobody to see Brazil or fellow superpowers Spain and Germany win all three of their group-stage games. So if the Americans are able to steal a point against a legitimate title contender -- perhaps in the final first-round game, after the top dog has already qualified for the second stage -- it would go a long way toward advancement. Historically, the best teams just don’t drop many points. And with the top two squads moving on, a second-place finish would be an unqualified victory for the U.S.
So forget about the seeds; the identity of the Americans' other two foes is what really matters.
If at all possible, the Americans would want to avoid unseeded heavyweights like France, Italy and the aforementioned Dutch. They also don't want talented but inconsistent squads like Bosnia-Herzegovina, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Nigeria, Portugal or Russia -- teams as capable of beating the U.S. as they are of losing to either of the other teams in their group.
But ducking all of those sides might a long shot. And if he had to pick, Klinsmann might prefer to face an opponent the U.S. has had success against during his tenure at the helm. That list includes the Bosnians, Italians and Russians, sides the Americans went 2-0-1 against (in Europe, no less) in the past two years. Similarly, Klinsmann probably wants no part of Belgium, an emerging all-world side that, while still unproven at the highest level, spanked the United States in a May friendly in Cleveland.
Elsewhere, the possibilities get more intriguing.
Overrated England will always provide a sexy matchup, and while U.S. fans might shudder at the prospect of losing to Ghana at a third straight World Cup, the U.S. could be due against the Black Stars this time around.
And it almost goes without saying that Klinsmann would relish a date with his native Germany. So would many of his 23 players -- up to a third of whom are German-born and/or trained there -- as well as media types who instantly would have six months' worth of juicy storylines to chase before the tournament. (The public mind games between Klinsmann, who won the title as a player with Die Mannschaft in 1990 and guided them to the semifinals as their manager in 2006, and former understudy Joachim Loew would also be fascinating.)
In an ideal world, though, the U.S. wouldn't face Germany, Ghana or England until later in the competition -- if the Americans are lucky enough to get there, that is. The U.S. has always played the role of underdog well. When the dust settles Friday, chances are that will have to continue for them to advance.