DOHA, Qatar — Of course that would be Christian Pulisic.
He is the prodigy of this young generation of ultra-talented American men, “Captain America”, doing things that no American has done before, both for club and country. If the USMNT is going to make a run at this World Cup and get people to rethink their view of American football, it’s going to require something special from Pulisic.
“I don’t see it as a burden at all. I’m very excited at the moment,” he said before the tournament started. “I will do my best to represent this country, and I hope to make everyone at home proud.”
Oh, I would say it has it all.
A violent collision with the Iranian keeper sent Pulisic to hospital with an abdominal injury on Tuesday night, but not before his 38th-minute goal gave the USMNT what they needed to beat Iran 1-0 and qualify for the round of 16.
Returning to the World Cup for the first time since 2014, the USMNT will be one of the last 16 teams in contention.
“That’s what he does,” USA coach Gregg Berhalter said. “That’s the special quality he has.”
Goals have been hard to come by for the USMNT in this tournament. Anywhere, really, with just three out of six games in the last three months. But with the USMNT needing a win to move forward, someone was going to have to find the back of the net. Who better than Pulisic?
In a squad of players talented enough to play for Europe’s top clubs and in the Champions League, Pulisic remains his talisman. He was the one who blazed a new trail for American players, traveling to Europe as a young teenager and winning a Champions League title with Chelsea, and he is most in the spotlight.
When the USMNT needs someone to shake things up, more often than not, it turns to Pulisic.
Weston McKennie sent a long ball to Sergino Dest, who headed it in the direction of Pulisic. Crouching near the back post, Pulisic ran for the ball and kicked it with his right foot.
“How many goals has he scored like that in his career?” asked Tyler Adams. “Coming to the back post, he’s brilliant in the way his timing is in the box. To get in front of that ball, he would do anything for this team for us to win.
Including sacrificing his body.
AFTER:Christian Pulisic day to day after suffering a pelvic contusion
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GO FORWARD ! USMNT advances to World Cup Round of 16
The momentum of his shot carried Pulisic forward, and he collided at full speed with Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand. Pulisic was down for several minutes before getting up and walking cautiously towards the American sideline. He tried jogging, stopped for a sip of water, then resumed play.
It was clear he was in pain, however, and he didn’t come out for the second half. He was taken to a local hospital for tests and was diagnosed with a “pelvic contusion”, according to US Soccer. Pulisic was back at the team hotel before the rest of the USA team arrived from the game.
The American men now face the Netherlands on Saturday with a chance to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 2002. Pulisic is listed as day-to-day, but McKennie said he has no doubts he will be in the field.
“I think he’ll be fine,” McKennie said. “I texted him and then we checked it out and he said, ‘I better believe I’ll be ready on Saturday. So I think he was very happy.
As was the entire USMNT. Also relieved after resisting a barrage from Iran late in the game.
A free kick in the third minute of injury time was barely wide of the near post. In the eighth minute of added time, Walker Zimmerman cleared the goal line after a shot from Mehdi Taremi went past Matt Turner. Iran wanted a penalty, saying Cameron Carter-Vickers held one of their players, but failed to protest.
A minute later, the final whistle sounded and the Americans were in the round of 16.
When the USMNT returned to the locker room, they FaceTimed Pulisic.
“I think everyone was screaming so we couldn’t really hear too much, too much. He was just excited,” Turner said. “That’s the kind of guy he is. He put everything on the line there and managed to get the ball across the line, which we haven’t done too much, too much in this tournament.
“He left everything there.”
Pulisic has dreamed of playing in the World Cup since he was little. He was going to do whatever it took to get the American men here, and he would do whatever it took to keep them here too.
Follow USA TODAY sports columnist Nancy Armor on Twitter @nrarmour.