Captain America became a true superhero Tuesday.
Christian Pulisic doesn’t wear a cape or carry a shield, but he does require a second tattoo with the date “11/29/2022.’’
The 24-year-old Mr. Christian scored the only goal of the World Cup match with Iran, and the U.S. — Us — advanced to soccer’s Sweet 16 for the first time since 2014.
It was not midnight at the oasis, but 10:38 p.m. in Qatar when Pulisic, born in the chocolate capital of America (Hershey, Pa.), kicked the ball into the net, collided head-first with Iranian goalkeeper Alire Beiranvand’s chest and suffered an abdominal injury that kept him out of the second half and in the hospital.
Nevertheless, the U.S. Men’s National Team pulled off its greatest 1-0 World Cup victory since defeating England in 1950. The Americans also beat the British in other events in 1783 and 1815 and tied them in a scoreless soccer skirmish Friday. With two ties and the Tuesday triumph, USMNT finished the opening round in Group B second behind England.
The Americans, who play the Netherlands next, possess the youngest team left in the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
They dominated the entire pitch the first half against Iran, which seemed intent on playing defense — and didn’t have a shot on goal — while hoping for a break or an eventual tie, which would send the Iranians into the round of 16 for the first time. Yet, the U.S. scored on Pulisic’s lone goal. In the second half, Iran turned aggressive offensively, and the American team emphasized defense, trying to hang on. Unlike in so many soccer contests, a 1-0 lead didn’t seem insurmountable.
Coach Gregg Berhalter substituted defensive players late as both sides appeared spent. The former European and Major League Soccer player, and a two-time member of the U.S. team in the World Cup, said afterward that “determination’’ carried his young Americans, particularly in the extra nine breath-breaking minutes. The U.S. was fortunate the match didn’t reach 100 minutes, because the Iranians almost scored a goal that was prevented by a defenseman and tried every desperate tact and act.
Meanwhile, the U.S. played for almost 60 minutes without Pulisic, nicknamed “Captain America’’ when he became a team captain and star scorer at 20.
He was off on a header try at the 36-minute mark, but the Americans came on a rush, and Sergino Dest punched a header from the right to Pulisic, steaming toward the goal. Full bore, he pushed the ball just to the left side of Beiranvand’s outstretched glove and plowed into the goalkeeper. Christian took the blow’s brunt.
But he had scored his first World Cup goal.
He couldn’t celebrate. Pulisic sprawled at the impact point, head in his hands, as four teammates and two trainers surrounded the winger. After a few minutes Pulisic stood shakily and was assisted toward the sideline but not replaced. Team USA played a man short for minutes before an obviously injured Pulisic valiantly rejoined them until the approaching halftime.
But he didn’t return for the entirety of the second half and watched from a hospital room.
Team USA shifted to defense mode.
Pulisic claims he will play Saturday.
He has dreamed of this Tuesday since being the Pennsylvania son of Mark and Kelley Pulisic, both soccer players at George Mason. At 7, Christian played for kids his first team, and hasn’t stopped scoring for the past 17 years in the United States and Europe. His most memorable moment was a goal he scored at 11 in a friendly in Florida against Brazil Dec. 13, 2013. He had the date tattooed on his arm.
The other arm is now due for a tattoo date to remember forever.
Pulisic signed with Chelsea of the English Premier League in 2019 for a transfer fee equivalent to approximately $60 million. He could be acquired this year by Arsenal, a team owned by Stan Kroenke.
Now, though, after a sensational one-nil victory, American plays on in the World Cup, and Christian Pulisic is its marvel wunderkind.