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Christian Pulisic called his World Cup shot, and USMNT devised the ‘exact play’ to make it happen

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DOHA, Qatar. 24 hours before the goal that took the United States to the 1/8 finals of the World Cup, Christian Pulisic announced his intention.

On Monday, he loitered around the USMNT training field here in Qatar, under the lights in Al Gharaf. And in an idle moment, he turned to US defender DeAndre Yedlin.

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“I feel like I’m scoring a goal tomorrow,” he said, according to Yedlin.

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And it was not just a tactless comment. “You could say,” Yedlin said. “Yesterday he had that look in his eyes when he was really ready to put the team on his back.”

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As promised, in the 38th minute of a terribly tense game, he burst into the box, charged the ball and the goalkeeper, scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Iran and paid the price. By the end of the night, he was in and out of the hospital and diagnosed with a pelvic bruise and status uncertain ahead of Saturday’s play-off game against the Netherlands.

But the goal was exactly what he imagined it to be; how he designed it as a child, in his family’s yard in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where his parents would serve in crosses; and as he said it on Monday.

“When a player like that says that,” Yedlin said of Pulisic’s prophecy, “you don’t say anything and you let him do his thing.”

When asked if this was a common occurrence for Pulisic, Yedlin replied that it was not. “I don’t know, I’m sure he thinks about it a lot,” Yedlin said. But this was different.

“I mean, you could say he’s been ready to play since the last game,” Yedlin said. “And he had this look in his eyes where he kind of knows he’s going to do something special.”

November 29, 2022;  Doha, Qatar;  United States of America forward Christian Pulisic (10) scores against Iran in the first half of the 2022 World Cup group stage at Al-Tumama Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports
Christian Pulisic scores against Iran in the first half of the group stage of the 2022 World Cup at Al-Tumama Stadium. (Yukihito Taguchi, USA Today Sports)

The target was also as recorded by the USMNT. “We talked about it before the game,” defenseman Tim Rome said. “Precise, precise play was how we were going to score.” A long diagonal from midfielder to fullback and then a cross with four Iranian defenders scrambling back towards their goal.

“Before the game, Christian was told, ‘Smash, smash the back post,'” Rome said. “And that’s exactly what he did. Perfect, perfect setup.”

In fact, it was a game model they endlessly practiced, “something we’ve been talking about for a while,” said USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter. They wanted to draw Iran to one side of the field and then use the other side with the help of an advancing defender. “We felt we didn’t do well enough with England,” Berhalter said. On Tuesday, “the guys did it perfectly.”

Then they held on, and then they celebrated with their wounded hero via FaceTime. Pulisic, still wearing his USMNT training jersey, was taken to a nearby hospital. As soon as his teammates returned to their dressing room at Al-Tumama Stadium, they called him. “The connection wasn’t very good,” defenseman Joe Scully said, “but he looked good.”

Other players said he looked “normal”. Yedlin said that Pulisic “was in good spirits, obviously, and excited.”

Meanwhile, a photo of Pulisic in the hospital circulated, with a patient wristband, pulse oximeter and everything, with a clenched fist and the caption: “So damn proud of my guys, I’ll be ready on Saturday, don’t worry.”

The source of the photo is unclear, so its authenticity is questionable. But Yedlin confirmed to Sportzshala Sports that the photo looked real. “This is what he was wearing,” Yedlin said.

“I dont know [about the caption]he said with a smirk. But yes, I’m sure it’s him.


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