USMNT World Cup Daily, Day 18
Pulisic says he'll do everything in his power to play Saturday against the Netherlands
DOHA, Qatar — Christian Pulisic, the U.S. World Cup goal-scoring hero who came off with a “pelvic contusion” after providing the game-winner against Iran, said today that he will “do everything in my power to be out there on the field Saturday” in a Round of 16 match against the Netherlands.
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And Pulisic made a statement of intent that he wants the U.S. not just to surprise the Dutch but to make a deep run in this tournament. When asked if he now had his “World Cup moment” to match Landon Donovan’s 2010 goal against Algeria, the 2020-21 UEFA men’s Champions League winner said: “I’m hoping I haven’t had that moment yet, to be honest. I’m hoping it’s in front of me. So it feels great to be where we’re at right now, but there’s still more to come.”
For a guy who has been dealing with a painful ailment, Pulisic seems like he’s in a much better mood in general than he was during the September window, when the U.S. was playing poorly and Pulisic’s funk was deep enough that I wrote about it. The joy on his face was palpable as he welcomed the U.S. players back to the team hotel on Tuesday, and Pulisic’s demeanor today was full of smiles and confidence. Forget the injury. He looks like a man reborn.
Speaking publicly for the first time since the injury, Pulisic took us through what happened from the moment he scored his first World Cup goal and instead of celebrating ended up keeled over in the Iranian goalmouth with his worried teammates gathering around him.
“I realized the ball went in,” Pulisic said. “I was a bit confused because the guys around me, I think they were just trying to keep their distance and make sure I was okay. But it didn’t really feel like a celebration, so I was worried I was offside. You never know nowadays. So I wasn’t sure what was going on.”
After a few minutes on the side of the field receiving treatment, Pulisic made his way back into the game for the final minutes of the first half. But in the halftime locker room the decision was made to remove him from the game and send him to the hospital as a precautionary measure.
“It was a crazy kind of experience for me,” Pulisic said. “Obviously the emotions were running so high, so I was doing everything I could to continue playing, and it all was kind of a blur to be honest. But then once I was told I was being taken to the hospital, I was able to follow it because a guy with me had it on his phone. It was the hardest thing. They were checking my blood sugar and it was flying through the roof, but it was just me stress-watching the game. But once I got through that and the final whistle blew, I was obviously very happy.”
Pulisic was helpful in explaining a bit of his injury situation when asked what a “pelvic contusion” actually meant. “Like, I didn't get hit in the balls,” he explained sheepishly. “I’m all right. It was very painful. That bone is there for a reason to protect you, I think, and I hit it.”
There was a time not that long ago—a bit more than a year maybe—when Pulisic didn’t seem to trust his U.S. teammates very much. It would cause him to overdribble in attacking situations and often lose the ball. But he has come to rely on the other U.S. players more often since then. That has been a process of growth on a young team.
“This team helps me so much to take the pressure off of me,” he said today. “More so a couple years ago, there were times where maybe I felt like I needed to do more. But with these guys, I don't feel that way at all, to be honest. I know they have my back. I know when I went down and I see Brenden [Aaronson] running on the pitch, I’m not worried at all.”
Sometimes it’s good to see things from the perspective not just of the hardcore soccer fan (which I know most of you are), but rather from that of the Americans who are just falling in love with this team. We’re a growing soccer country still, and so many new USMNT fans are being created every day now. Pulisic is aware of that as well, that a not insignificant number of Yanks will now find out when he’s playing on Boxing Day after this World Cup is over and seek him out. Those people are already in for World Cup 2026 in North America.
“I hope that they can see just the unity and the team spirit that we display,” he said today. “I hope that’s what’s helping us gain fans. I hope people watching, especially back home in the States, can see, wow, these guys would really give everything for each other, for this country. And that's what really makes us special. You can see all the individual talent. You have guys playing at top clubs across the world, but without the brotherhood, without this family aspect, we wouldn’t be in this position.”
There’s something about Pulisic’s commitment to the national team, to the national idea, that is special. Certain athletes have it, this devotion to playing for their country. For all of Diego Maradona’s otherworldly talents, his overwhelming feelings for the national team were remarkable. The same was the case for John McEnroe when he represented the U.S. in the Davis Cup. Pulisic is in that realm, and it’s rare, and it’s exciting to see it revealed in the crucible of the World Cup.
On Saturday, we find out if the U.S. journey continues. I expect Pulisic to play a significant role.
IN OTHER NEWS
• Germany is out. Mexico is out. Belgium is out. And all of those things should remind everyone that the U.S.’s advancement to the knockout rounds was never guaranteed. This is a big deal. A new tournament starts now.
• I wrote a new USMNT mailbag column for CBS. You can read it here.
• Things at our Doha townhouse are fine. I’m a little worried that with Germany’s elimination my housemate Rafa Honigstein might go home, but I’m hoping he gets a reprieve. Last night at 3:30 am water suddenly started coming through my bedroom ceiling. I think it’s fixed, but not sure. And it’s my birthday today. Never thought I’d spend a birthday at the World Cup, but here we are.
Have a good evening!
Happy Birthday Grant! If they let you, hoist a pint. Then save the glass to catch the leaking water!
Happy birthday, Grant! Hope it was a good one. The World Cup continues to entertain! Appreciate your thoughts on Pulisic and how he's grown playing with the USMNT. Seems like he's much more relaxed, which is new.
I think winning on Tuesday was a huge weight lifted off his shoulders. Obviously, the U.S. wants to go all the way and compete past the group stage, but I thought Pulisic looked very nervous in the TV shots during the anthem ahead of Iran. After everything he went through in 2017 with qualifying, I'm sure he's feeling a heckuva lot better now that they're through to the round of 16.