World Cup 2022: Christian Pulisic’s heroic goal downs Iran, propels USMNT into Round of 16


DOHA, Qatar — Captain America began its push from unbearable pressure to the Promised Land at 10:37 p.m., out of sight of Iran for the World Cup playoffs. He broke through the deafening Iranian noise, away from the specter of an elimination into the box. And so, on the biggest stage, a fraction of a second before hitting the goalkeeper, Christian Pulisic appeared.

He simultaneously shaped his leg and threw his body into danger, and scored the elusive goal that gave the US men’s team a 1-0 victory over Iran on Tuesday.

He won the USMNT in Saturday’s Round of 16 match against the Netherlands and ended in a harrowing wait. The US has spent over 200 minutes here in Qatar directing the games and excelling. However, for what seemed like an eternity, since the first half of his discovery, he could not find the target.

But then Weston McKenny raised his head, and Serginho Dest mounted his horse. McKenny picked Dest, and as soon as he did, Pulisic launched a killer run from 30 yards straight into the heart of Iran’s defenses. Dest sent a flying ball in his path, and Pulisic broke the deadlock with a jump that would have cost him health and the second half of the match.

For Pulisic, it was years, maybe a lifetime, in the making, made in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and then amidst all kinds of stress in Dortmund and London. It was the moment he craved, especially after the USMNT failed to qualify for the 2018 World Championship, which brought him to inconsolable tears.

But in the meantime, a bright team has grown up around him. Formed by a youth development overhaul and then new head coach Gregg Berhalter; and fueled by a group of young talents, USMNT arrived at this World Cup ready to show that they have resurrected their program.

Until Tuesday, after two matches, they were impressive but wasteful. They missed opportunity after opportunity to take Wales out of the game, and Gareth Bale made them pay. They outplayed England but missed chances and sharp passes in a 0-0 draw. “It’s hard to score goals and that’s what we found,” Berhalter admitted.

DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 29: Christian Pulisic (C) of USA scores the first goal of his team past Majid Hosseini (L) and Amir Abedzadeh of Iran during the 2022 FIFA World Cup Group B match in Qatar between Iran and USA at Al Stadium -Tumama, November 29, 2022, Doha, Qatar.  (Photo by Marvin Ibo Genger - GES Sportfoto/Getty Images)
Christian Pulisic breaks free and scores the only USMNT goal in Tuesday’s 1-0 victory over Iran in Qatar. (Photo by Marvin Ibo Genger – GES Sportfoto/Getty Images)

However, he and the players maintained the belief that goals would be scored in the event of a win or homecoming against Iran.

For more than half an hour, their story remained unchanged. We possessed the ball, got into semi-dangerous positions, but did not find a breakthrough. Pulisic tried to break through the middle of the compact Iranian defense but failed. Dest shot through the gate, but no one attacked. Weah saw the ball fly into his lap in the center of the penalty area, but did not realize that he had time to bring it down.

With every minute and every growing chant of the predominantly pro-Iranian crowd, the tension grew. Weah could not find Pulisic with a reduced line-up. Dest beat the two men, but his overhand left-footed kick was blocked.

It all felt all too familiar and disappointing until Pulisic showed up out of nowhere to change the narrative.

He suffered a painful injury during the game and had to be pulled from the game at half-time. But the US no longer needed a target; he just had to hold on and it happened. Tim Rome and Cameron Carter-Vickers, starting together for the first time as a pair of centre-backs, were amazing. Yunus Musa was active and explosive. Tyler Adams, as always, was everywhere.

The final stages, however, were harrowing. The U.S. made two injury-induced substitutions – Josh Sargent was also hobbled – and then, midway through the second half, they made two tactical changes, conceding control, setting up a magazine and maintaining a one-goal lead. Kellin Acosta and Walker Zimmerman went into battle. The US has switched to a 5-4-1 formation. Zimmerman was tough, winning head-to-head while Iran bombarded the US defenses with hopeful balls.

TOPSHOT - Team USA No. 08 midfielder Weston McKenny celebrates his team's first goal scored by Team USA No. 10 forward Christian Pulisic during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football game between Iran and the United States at the Al-Tumama Stadium in Doha, November 29, 2022 .  (Photo by Patrick T. Fallon/AFP) (Photo by Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)
Weston McKenny celebrates Christian Pulisic’s goal. (Photo by Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

In the dying embers of added time, everything almost collapsed. Iranian star Mehdi Taremi sneaked behind the US defenses and hit the ball, colliding with US goalkeeper Matt Turner. The ball flew slowly but freely towards the gaping goal until Zimmerman recovered and hooked it.

Iranian football players demanded a penalty and crowded around the referee. But his video assistants were adamant.

The last half hour had been ugly and terrifying. But what mattered was the result. When the final whistle finally sounded, Adams fell to his knees, and Musa on his ass. Teammates rushed off the bench to attack Turner and others. They exchanged hugs full of relief and gratitude and cheered for the thousands of fans in red, white and blue. During the celebrations, Pulisic was taken to the hospital as a “precaution” according to Berhalter. Pulisic later made a FaceTime call with the team and several players, who said he seemed to be fine.

They have a Saturday date with the Dutch, who will be favored but can be beaten. Another victory there, at 10:00 ET at the Khalifa Stadium, would have taken the Americans to the quarter-finals, which could have been played by Argentina, but also could have been conceded by a much weaker opponent like Poland, Denmark or Australia.

So it’s time to celebrate, and then dream. The first of two tournaments within the tournament, as Berhalter always put it, was won. The second, four-round knockout glove presents endless possibilities.