Three possible outcomes for the United States against Algeria next Wednesday, but only one will see the U.S. go through to the knock-out stage, provided England beats Algeria:*
Lose To Algeria: United States is out. The States will be left with two points and finish last in Group C, with Algeria passing them for third. England and Slovenia will advance.
This scenario will not happen, though. Over the next four days, I'll just keep repeating that to myself and magically make the possibility go away.
"This won't happen."
Draw With Algeria: As it concerns advancing, this is as good as a loss, with the U.S. destined to finish third with three points. Again, England and Slovenia will advance.
"This won't happen. This won't happen."
Victory Over Algeria: This gets the U.S. to five points and most likely sees the U.S. through in second place, behind the Slovenia-England winner. As long as that match doesn't end in a draw, the U.S. is through.
If England and Slovenia draw, things get complicated.
That would leave all three teams with one win and two draws, with goal difference being the first tiebreaker. If the U.S. beats Algeria by two or more, they're through, as Slovenia only beat Algeria by one. Likewise, if England beats Algeria today by two or more, they would win this tiebreaker over Slovenia.
If the U.S. only wins by one over Algeria, it would be best if the score were 2-1, 3-2 - anything but 1-0. If the U.S. scores more than one goal, they could go through over Slovenia on the second tiebreaker: goals scored. Granted, if Slovenia and England play to a 3-3, the U.S. is likely out, but with the Slovenes only getting a 1-0 over Algeria on Sunday, the U.S. is in a position to get through should they score multiple goals.
Likewise, the U.S.' 2-2 today against Slovenia helps. If England only wins 1-0 over Algeria, they risk losing out to the U.S. and Slovenia on the goals scored tiebreaker if the teams end in a three-way tie.
If teams still remain tied after considering goal difference and goals scored, then you start to look at goals difference and goals scored in matches between the tied teams, disregarding the Algeria results. At this point, one of the three teams might have won a tie breaker and gone through, so this could be a two-way or a three-way tie. If it is a two-way tie, the goal difference and goals scored will be identical, sending us to ... well, let's not think about that just yet.
In a three-way tie, the U.S. and Slovenia are again aided by their 2-2 result. Goal difference would be even, as England, Slovenia and the U.S. all drew against each other, and the goals scored today by the United States and Slovenia could see them through. Again, the U.S. would be screwed if England and Slovenia play to a 3-3, but seeing as a 0-0 or 1-1- are much more likely scenarios, the 2-2 could see the States though.
If, after all these tiebreakers, teams are still even, lots will be drawn by FIFA.
And after walking through all that, doesn't it seem we're far closer to lots than anybody should be comfortable with?
I don't even know what a lot is!**
* if England doesn't beat Algeria, we'll give you a new, more celebratory update.
** Actually, we looked it up. It's basically drawing numbers out of a hat. Seriously.