World Cup: Christian Pulisic of U.S. hopes he can play Saturday

Christian Pulisic learned the USA had reached the Round of 16 at the World Cup while staring at a cell phone in a hospital exam room. Which is strange because it was Pulisic’s goal that sent the Americans there.

But the goal-scoring game ended with Pulisic slipping into Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand, whose knee slammed into Pulisics…well, we’ll get to that in a moment. The main thing is that the ball lands in the net as the USA hold on to their 1-0 win and meet the Netherlands in the first round of qualifying games on Saturday.

Pulisic, meanwhile, ended up in hospital where he was diagnosed with a contused pelvis, a condition that’s a lot more painful than it sounds. But apparently not as painful as it could have been.

“I mean, it’s a pelvic bruise,” he said. “At the same time, I wasn’t hit [testicles]. It was very painful and, you know, this bone is there for a reason, to protect you. I got it right. It hurts. But it’s getting better.”

Whether that bone protected Pulisic well enough for him to play on Saturday night will not be known until game time. But his absence would be a huge blow to the USA as the Americans have only scored two goals at this World Cup and Pulisic has assisted one and scored the other.

“I’m taking it day-to-day at the moment, but doing everything in my power to be able to be out there on the field on Saturday,” said Pulisic, who was unusually upbeat and engaged during a 14-minute media conference on Thursday at the der US training complex.

Although the players have chosen Tyler Adams as their captain, Pulisic has long been the public face of the team and it’s clear the players are feeding on his courage and determination. That will be difficult to replace unless he can face off against the Netherlands, who are ranked eighth in the world and are unbeaten in 18 games.

“Obviously a huge player for us,” Adams said of his teammate. “I know he will do anything to play in the next game. So we count on him.”

“Just shows his courage,” said midfielder Kellyn Acosta of the goal, which Pulisic finished knowing a collision was imminent. “He wanted it so badly. I’m glad he was finally rewarded with a goal. He’s super hungry.”

This World Cup was to be Pulisic’s coming-out party after he and USA missed out on the tournament four years ago. Since then he has played two seasons in the German Bundesliga for Dortmund and four in the English Premier League with Chelsea. He has also appeared in 47 Champions League games, most of them by an American. It’s already a résumé in the Hall of Fame and Pulisic is just three months after his 24th birthday.

What was missing from this resume, however, was a twist in the glowing light of the global spotlight this tournament has provided.

“I definitely don’t want that to be the only thing I look back on from this tournament. This team and I still have a long way to go.”

– Christian Pulisic

Christian Pulisic of the United States is assisted by team doctors after scoring his team's opening goal.

Christian Pulisic is helped off the field after scoring a goal during a World Cup group stage match against Iran on Tuesday in Doha, Qatar.

(Luca Bruno/Associated Press)

“It’s the greatest sport. We’re on stage,” said teammate Tim Weah. “It’s up to us to go as far as we can and make sure we make a statement.”

But when given the opportunity to make a statement on his own performance in Qatar, Pulisic turned the focus back to his team.

“Scoring a goal and helping the team in any way I can, that’s my job,” he said. “I want to make big games and I want to do what I can to help this team.”

“It feels great to score at a World Cup,” he added.

Well, it might not have felt that great back then.

“I paid the price for it a bit,” he said. “Took a knee. It was not nice; obviously very painful.”

Pulisic said he knew he scored but wasn’t sure if the goal counted because his teammates didn’t celebrate.

“I was a bit confused,” he said. “I think they tried to keep their distance and make sure I was okay. I was afraid it was offside. You never know these days.”

Given the importance of the goal in USA’s progress to the Round of 16 – without the goal Iran would have progressed and the USA would have gone home – Pulisic’s result has drawn comparisons to Landon Donovan’s stoppage-time goal against Algeria in the group. Playing the 2010 final in South Africa. Without that goal, the USA would have been eliminated; thus the Americans won the group.

Donovan celebrated his goal by having beers in the locker room with Bill Clinton. Pulisic celebrated his in the hospital.

“That was the hardest part,” he said. “They checked my blood sugar and everything; it flew through the roof. It was just stress watching the game. Of course I was very happy when the final whistle blew.”

Pulisic dismissed any similarities between his goal and 2010’s. For one thing, Donovan never won another World Cup game. Pulisic, meanwhile, is planning many more memorable victories.

“I hope I haven’t had that moment yet, to be honest,” he said. “I hope it’s in front of me.”

“There’s no way I want that to be the only thing I look back on from this tournament,” he added. “There’s still a lot ahead of me and this team.” World Cup: Christian Pulisic of U.S. hopes he can play Saturday

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