The lasting image of the national team’s failure at the last World Cup was that of Christian Pulisic, his uniform stained with grass and dirt, cowering in frustration in the center of the field, head in hand. As a result, bringing USA to Qatar this fall probably meant more to Pulisic than any other player.
“He’s one of those people who really felt the heartbreak of 2017,” said goaltender Matt Turner.
In his World Cup debut on Monday, delayed by four years, Pulisic put on a heroic performance only to be frustrated again as a late penalty goal gave Wales two points in a 1-1 draw.
“A little disappointed with how the game went,” said defender Walker Zimmerman, whose foul in the penalty area resulted in Gareth Bale’s goal in the 82nd minute. “Being able to walk away with three points in less than 15 minutes feels like we could have earned a little bit more.”
And nobody deserved a better result than Pulisic, whose perfectly weighted pass freed Tim Weah for the only US goal in the 36th minute.
Playing against a Welsh team that had more body than finesse, Pulisic was beaten, penalized and beaten. But he didn’t give up.
He was pushed, injured and crushed. But he couldn’t be beat.
Bound, yes, but not beaten. That leaves the US still in considerable control of their destiny as group games against England and Iran lie ahead.
“I don’t know. I want to win,” Pulisic said when asked what drove him to keep standing out from the well-manicured pitch at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, only to be crushed again. “I’m very competitive I love this team so much I’m honored to represent my country at a World Cup.
“The least I can do is give everything I have.”
Pulisic may have been the only constant for USA in a game that turned out to be two halves.
The Americans came out aggressively, swarming the ball in a first half in which they held the ball 30 of the 45 minutes, passing Wales almost two to one and firing the only shot on goal that Weah put in the back of the net. It was Pulisic who scored the goal, chesting a ball from a Josh Sargent pass near midfield and going for a long run in broken field before pushing a pass forward for Weah, the two defenders up in the box and then hit the ball through a push from Welsh keeper Wayne Hennessey.
“Playing with Christian is amazing,” said Weah. “Over the years we have developed a connection. Once he gets the ball I just have to let him run behind them.
“He fights for the team. You can’t ask for anything [more]. Definitely a leader.”
The goal gave Weah one more World Cup goal than his father George, who was three times African of the Year and former World Player of the Year before becoming Liberia’s president. But despite his successes, he never played at a World Cup.
The USA could not get more despite their early dominance. Some nervousness and fatigue on opening night among the young Americans, combined with a few half-time adjustments by Wales, allowed the Welsh to dominate the second half. Bale eventually pulled his team, even as his left-footed shot from the penalty spot got past Turner, who guessed correctly by diving right but couldn’t get enough of his gloved hands on the shot to stop it.
Turner was again nearly burned by Bale in stoppage time. After the keeper sprinted well off his line to break up a counterattack, Bale ran to the loose ball just inside the US half and began lining up a shot at the distant but open net before Kellyn Acosta knocked his LAFC teammate around grabbed his shoulders to prevent this shot.
“A professional foul,” Zimmerman said of Acosta’s quick thinking that earned him a yellow card.
“We talked about it before the game – every game counts,” said US coach Gregg Berhalter, the only American to have played and coached USA at a World Cup. “Every single game can have an outcome for the game.”
What matters now is how the USA react to a draw that felt a bit like a loss.
“It’s definitely disappointing after such a good start,” said Pulisic. “A point in the first game is better than none. We have to move on, learn from it. It’s our first World Cup game. Now it’s time to focus on the next one.”
Turner added of the challenge ahead: “If it were easy, everyone would do it. For us it focuses on the fact that it was a good start. You take a point and move on.”
https://www.latimes.com/sports/soccer/story/2022-11-21/christian-pulisic-usmnt-wales-world-cup-recap Christian Pulisic can’t save U.S. in World Cup draw with Wales