Since he was a kid, the future of American soccer has been on Christian Pulisic’s shoulders.
He delivered on that hope Tuesday, scoring the game-winning goal against Iran to advance the United States to the knockout stage.
It likely won’t be considered the best goal by an American at a World Cup; that, of course, is Landon Donovan’s late score against Algeria in 2010. But Pulisic’s first half goal — the only ball to find the back of the net in the must-win contest — could very well be second on the list.
At the very least, Pulisic — whose hype as the great hope for American soccer began before he even debuted for the national team as a teenager in 2016 — has cemented himself on the Mount Rushmore of momentous World Cup goals by an American.
“A great goal for Christian Pulisic, literally throwing his body on the line,” analyst Stu Holden said on Fox after the game. “We’ve been waiting for another big moment for him, but a goal, a marquee moment. To say that you can look back and say Christian Pulisic’s goal is the difference that got this team to the knockout stage.”
The goal for Pulisic, a striker for Chelsea in the Premier League, was the first World Cup score of his career. Four years ago, Pulisic and the rest of the nation missed out on the quadrennial tournament after a heartbreaking and embarrassing loss to Trinidad & Tobago in the qualifying stage.
Before Tuesday’s game-winner, Pulisic’s last goal for the U.S. on foreign soil came in that 2-1 loss to Trinidad & Tobago.
“I was thinking back to 2017 when we didn’t qualify and seeing Christian Pulisic gutted on the field in tears,” analyst Sacha Kljestan said on Fox. “This was the game we needed to win, and he stepped up. There’s a reason why he plays for Chelsea, there’s a reason why he was a $70 million player. And he stepped up and put the team on his back today.”
When ranking the best goals in U.S. World Cup history, it’s almost impossible to imagine someone else topping Donovan’s stunning score a dozen years ago. For most American soccer fans, it is the goal that comes to mind when remembering the few positive memories for the U.S. at the World Cup.
In the final group stage match in 2010, the U.S. was in a similar situation as it was Tuesday versus Iran: Win or go home. The game was tied past the 90-minute mark, with only a couple minutes of injury time remaining when a cross bounced off Algeria’s goalie and Donovan cleaned up the rebound for the game-winner before sliding head first with the rest of the team in celebration.
Pulisic’s goal is now also up there with Joe Gaetjens’ game-winning score against England at the 1950 World Cup. While the U.S. didn’t make it past the group stage that year, the win is still considered one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. The U.S. didn’t qualify for the World Cup for another 40 years after 1950.
Pulisic paid a price for his gutsy goal, though. After he kicked home the header from teammate Sergino Dest, Pulisic collided with Iran’s goalkeeper and was down on the turf for minutes after the score. He finished the first half but didn’t return for the final 45 minutes.
The U.S. Soccer Federation said after the game that Pulisic has an abdominal injury and was taken to the hospital for a scan. It’s unclear what his status will be for Saturday’s Round of 16 matchup against the Netherlands at 10 a.m., but his return is paramount. He didn’t just score the game-winner Tuesday, he assisted the team’s only other goal in the opener versus Wales.
“I’ve been saying all along, it’s a wonderful thing when one of your best players is also one of the hardest working,” coach Gregg Berhalter said on Fox. “He’s certainly that. I can’t say enough positive things about Christian.”