As the top seed in Group E, the U.S. will play all of its first-round matches in New Zealand and potentially all but one in that country before the Aug. 20 final in Sydney.
The US opener on July 22 in Auckland is against first-time participants Vietnam, followed five days later by a clash in Wellington with the eighth-ranked Netherlands, who lost to the US, 2-0, in the 2019 final in France.
Group play will conclude on August 1 in Auckland against the winner of a final in February between No. 23 Portugal, No. 41 Thailand and No. 58 Cameroon.
“We got a good but a bit tough draw,” said US coach Vlatko Andonovski. “I’m excited about it. This is when the real preparation begins.”
With a 20-1-3 record in group play, the U.S. isn’t expected to have much trouble earning one of the group’s two spots in the knockout stage. If rankings hold form, it would face number 14 Italy, the second best team in Group G, in the round of 16 in Sydney.
Finishing second in the group, however, the Americans would likely play Group G favorite Sweden, who defeated them, 3-0, in the 2021 Olympic group stage. The United States and Sweden have met in the group stage the previous five World Cups, with the Americans winning three, losing one and tying one.
“I’m confident in the group, but it’s not really about the group because there’s a lot of games to play in a World Cup and the competition just keeps getting stronger and better,” said former USA star Carli Lloyd, who co-hosted the draw ceremony in Auckland.
The Americans were thrilled with the overall bracket: Until the final, they would avoid European champion England, 2021 Olympic gold medalist Canada and challengers Germany, France, Brazil and Australia. The top teams on their side of the bracket are Sweden, Japan and Spain.
Six stadiums in Australia and four in New Zealand will host the 64 matches. All but three participants are fixed. A 10-nation final 18-23 February in Auckland will complete the 32-team field, the biggest since FIFA launched a women’s championship in 1991.
Although the Americans will arrive at the World Cup as one of the favorites, they have their work cut out for them. Earlier this month, they lost back-to-back games for the first time in 5½ years, falling to fourth-ranked England, 2-1, and No. 6 Spain, 2-0. They will resume preparations with two friendlies against third-ranked Germany: November 10 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and November 13 in Harrison, NJ.
The run-up to the World Cup will include two friendlies in February and two in April. The opponents and venues have not been finalized.
“We have a lot of work to do in the next year,” said American midfielder Lindsey Horan. “We have to be better. We have to learn and grow. Hopefully, it will improve a lot in the coming year.”
FIFA rank in brackets
Group A: New Zealand (22), Norway (12), Philippines (53), Switzerland (21).
Group B: Australia (13), Ireland (24), Nigeria (45), Canada (7).
Group C: Spain (6), Costa Rica (37), Zambia (81), Japan (11).
Group D: England (4), final winner*, Denmark (18), China (15).
Group E: USA (1), Vietnam (34), Netherlands (8), final winner**.
Group F: France (5), Jamaica (43), Brazil (9), final winner***.
Group G: Sweden (2), South Africa (54), Italy (14), Argentina (29).
Group H: Germany (3), South Korea (17), Colombia (27), Morocco (76).
*Chile (38), Senegal (84) or Haiti (56).
**Portugal (23), Cameroon (58) or Thailand (41).
***Taiwan (40), Paraguay (51), Papua New Guinea (50) or Panama (57).