DOHA, Qatar — Of course it was going to be Christian Pulisic.
He’s the wunderkind of this uber-talented young generation of U.S. men, “Captain America,” accomplishing things no American has before, for both club and country. If the USMNT is to make a run at this World Cup, and make people rethink their view of American soccer, it’s going to require something special from Pulisic.
“I don’t see it as a burden at all. I’m very excited for the moment,” he said before the tournament began. “I’m going to do the best I can in representing this country, and hope I make everyone back home proud.”
Oh, I’d say he’s got that covered.
A hard collision with Iran’s goalkeeper sent Pulisic to the hospital with an abdominal injury Tuesday night, but not before his goal in the 38th minute gave the USMNT what it needed to beat Iran 1-0 and advance to the knockout rounds.
Back in the World Cup for the first time since 2014, the USMNT will be one of the last 16 teams standing.
“That’s what he does,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said. “That’s the special quality that he has.”
Goals have been hard for the USMNT to come by at this tournament. Anywhere, really, with just three in six matches over the last three months. But with the USMNT needing a win to advance, someone was going to have to find the back of the net. Who better than Pulisic?
On a team of players talented enough to be playing at the top clubs in Europe and the Champions League, Pulisic remains its talisman. He is the one who has blazed a new path for U.S. players, going to Europe as a young teenager and winning a Champions League title with Chelsea, and he commands the largest spotlight.
When the USMNT needs someone to make something happen, more often than not, they look to Pulisic.
Weston McKennie chipped a long ball to Sergino Dest, who headed it across the goal in the direction of Pulisic. Lurking near the back post, Pulisic ran onto the ball and knocked it in with his right foot.
“How many goals has he scored like that in his career?” Tyler Adams asked. “Back post arriving, he’s brilliant the way that his timing is into the box. To get in front of that ball – he’ll do anything for this team in order for us to win.”
Including sacrificing his body.
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MOVING ON! USMNT advances to World Cup knockout rounds
The momentum of his shot carried Pulisic forward, and he collided at full speed with Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand. Pulisic was down for several minutes before getting up and walking gingerly toward the U.S. sideline. He tried jogging, stopped for a sip of water and then went back into the game.
It was clear he was hurting, however, and he didn’t come out for the second half. He was taken to a local hospital for tests and diagnosed with a “pelvic contusion,” according to U.S. Soccer. Pulisic was back at the team hotel before the rest of the U.S. squad arrived from the game.
The U.S. men now play the Netherlands on Saturday with a chance to reach the quarterfinals for the first time since 2002. Pulisic is listed as day-to-day, but McKennie said he has no doubts he’ll be on the field.
“I think he’ll be fine,” McKennie said. “I sent him a text and then we checked on him and he said, 'Best believe I’ll be ready on Saturday.’ So I think he was very happy.”
As was the entire USMNT. Relieved, too, after withstanding a barrage from Iran late in the game.
A free kick in the third minute of stoppage time was barely wide of the near post. In the eighth minute of stoppage time, Walker Zimmerman made a goal-line clearance after a shot by Mehdi Taremi got behind Matt Turner. Iran wanted a penalty, saying Cameron Carter-Vickers had been holding one of its players, but was unsuccessful in its protest.
A minute later, the final whistle blew and the Americans were into the knockout rounds.
When the USMNT returned to the locker room, they FaceTimed Pulisic.
“I think everyone was screaming so we couldn’t really hear too, too much. He was just excited,” Turner said. “That’s the kind of guy he is. He put everything on the line there and was able to get the ball across the line, something that we haven’t done too, too much in this tournament.
“He left everything out there.”
Pulisic has been dreaming about playing in the World Cup since he was a little boy. He was going to do whatever it took to get the U.S. men here, and he'll do whatever it takes to keep them here, too.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Christian Pulisic lives up to hype, carries USMNT to knockout rounds