AL THUMAMA, Qatar – As his teammates and coach noted afterwards, it was a trademark Christian Pulisic run.
The Chelsea star sprinted to the back post to get onto the end of Sergino Dest’s headed centering pass, providing the decisive touch to push the US men’s national team ahead 1-0 in the 38th minute. That came despite a looming and eventually brutal midsection collision with Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand in their Group B finale, ultimately placing second behind England.
USMNT captain Tyler Adams said it was a game that required suffering in order to win, and perhaps no one suffered quite like Pulisic, who required lengthy medical treatment after his game-winning goal and was substituted out at halftime for Brenden Aaronson, making a trip to a local hospital as a precautionary measure.
The official diagnosis is a pelvic contusion. But he texted and video-chatted with his teammates after the match – he actually arrived back at the team hotel before the rest of the group – and informed them he’ll "be ready for Saturday don’t worry," in reference to the USMNT’s looming Round of 16 clash with the Netherlands at the 2022 FIFA World Cup (10 am ET | FOX, Telemundo).
U.S. Soccer called the 24-year-old Chelsea attacker's injury status day-to-day, and his health will be watched closely before their knockout-stage meeting with the Dutch, who topped Group A. Pulisic has started every USMNT World Cup game on the left wing and has factored into both of their goals in Qatar, also assisting on Tim Weah's tally in the 1-1 draw against Wales.
Tim Ream said the scoring sequence, an end-to-end move that started with goalkeeper Matt Turner and was keyed by Weston McKennie’s searching switch of play to find Dest behind the Iranian backline, was a specific part of the pregame preparations.
“We talked about it before the game. That exact play was how we were going to score,” said the veteran defender. “Credit to Serg seeing that he could hit the ball back across, and Christian was told before the game to crash that back post and that's exactly what he did. … Perfect, perfect, perfect setup for the goal.”
Head coach Gregg Berhalter echoed that, long before Pulisic was shown celebrating with teammates at the USMNT's hotel as they returned postgame.
“Christian makes those runs – that's what he does,” Berhalter noted. “That's the special quality he has. As soon as the ball is wide, he goes with intensity into the penalty box, and good things happen, and he scores goals. We’ve seen him at Chelsea, he’s scored a number of balls, same kind of run, he crashes the box and makes it really difficult for the other guys with his change of pace.”
Pulisic is the USMNT's leading scorer on their roster, now tallying 22 times across 55 games. His breakthrough against Iran was probably his biggest goal yet for the Stars and Stripes, and McKennie has little doubt their talisman will return this weekend.
“We have 26 players here on the roster, and every single player is willing to lay their body on the line to make sure this team’s successful,” said the Juventus midfielder. “And as you see, he did the same thing. It was unfortunate but I think he'll be fine. I sent him a text and checked on him and he said, ‘best believe I'll be ready on Saturday.’ So I think he was very happy for us, obviously, and we're happy that he's feeling good.”
Tim Weah, Pulisic's opposite winger, highlighted how pivotal the moment was for America's most expensive club player (reported $73 million from Borussia Dortmund to Chelsea in 2019) after he was part of the failed Russia 2018 cycle.
"Going back to him not qualifying for the last World Cup and then being here and qualifying us through, that's just the work of God," Weah told FOX's Jenny Taft. "God bless him. I love him and he's so important to this team. He's a key player and a leader. He's somebody that we definitely need."