Christian Pulisic 2

Christian Pulisic Downs Iran to Fire USA into World Cup Knockouts Amidst Injury Concerns

With a loss or draw enough to send them home, the U.S. men’s national team secured a vital 1-0 win over to Iran on Tuesday to finish second in Group B and advance to the knockout rounds of the 2022 World Cup.

As reported by ESPN, Christian Pulisic scored the game’s only goal in the 38th minute, finishing from close range. Pulisic suffered what looked to be a lower abdominal injury on the play, and had to be substituted at halftime, and the U.S. rarely looked as fluid in attack again.

The U.S. was made to suffer in the game’s latter stages, but ultimately did enough to secure a win that sees the Americans reach the knockout stages for the fourth time in the last five World Cups in which the USA has qualified.

Pulisic the Hero, But Pays a Price as Americans Advance to Knockouts

Pulisic hasn’t always looked comfortable being the face of this U.S. team, and despite setting up Tim Weah’s goal in the opener against Wales, his play had blown hot-and-cold in this World Cup. His execution during transition opportunities hasn’t been good enough, and his set pieces oftentimes failed to clear the first man.

Tuesday’s match looked to be more of the same in the early going, as the U.S. struggled to break down Iran’s defensive wall. But no one could question Pulisic’s commitment or bravery in putting the U.S. on top in the 38th minute. Weston McKennie pinged a ball to Sergiño Dest on the right wing, and Dest threaded the ball across goal to the on-rushing Pulisic to convert from close range.

Pulisic paid a price for the tally, colliding with Iran keeper Alireza Beiranvand, and suffering a injury that left him wincing in pain. The gamely carried on for the rest of the half, but eventually had to be substituted, with Brenden Aaronson coming on.

The U.S. will be praying Pulisic recovers, as the Americans lost something with him no longer on the field — though part of that was due to Iran taking a more aggressive posture in attack.

The substitutions made by U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter seemed designed to see the match out, rather than control the tempo. The insertion of Walker Zimmerman, who was surprisingly moved to the bench after starting the USA’s first two games, saw the Americans go with five in the back.

The U.S. certainly didn’t close out the game in textbook fashion, as there were plenty of anxious moments at the end. Zimmerman’s late clearance in stoppage time defused a scary situation when a ball got behind goalkeeper Matt Turner. But the U.S. got the job done.

The match was seen as something of a referendum for this U.S. squad — and Berhalter. A group stage exit would have been seen as a failure given the talent in this U.S. side, and questions still remain about the effectiveness of the U.S. attack, which scored just two goals during the group stage.

But thanks to continued stellar play by the U.S. defense, this is a moment to celebrate, and the Americans can now approach the knockout rounds with an attitude that it has nothing to lose and everything to gain.

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