A nation holds its breath.
Christian Pulisic, one of the USMNT’s star players, scored the only goal of the game against Iran on Tuesday, to book his nation a mouthwatering last-16 tie with the Netherlands.
But in scoring the decisive goal Pulisic injured himself, raising concerns the 24-year-old Chelsea forward could miss out on the USMNT’s first knockout match at a World Cup since Brazil 2014, when they were unlucky to lose to Belgium after extra time.
The hours after the USA’s win over Iran were something of a rollercoaster. First Pulisic let it be known that he would be “ready for Saturday — don’t worry” on social media. But then the US tweeted to say that he would be assessed “day-to-day” after “a pelvic contusion”.
So, should fans of the USMNT be worried about Pulisic’s fitness for Saturday, or should they not? Ahead of the most important match in American men’s soccer in eight years, we answer some of the key questions about his injury below.
USA 1-0 Iran: Pulisic goal seals place in World Cup last 16, dominant Dest and focus on the wings
How did Pulisic pick up the injury?
Where were you on Tuesday afternoon?!
The opening half of the USMNT’s match against Iran was beginning to resemble the England game, with Gregg Berhalter’s side enjoying plenty of possession but struggling in front of goal.
Step forward Sergino Dest. The AC Milan full-back got onto the end of Weston McKennie’s ball forward and did brilliantly to cushion a header across the face of Iran’s goal.
Pulisic burst into the area and swept the ball into the back of the net, beyond Iran’s goalkeeper, Alireza Beiranvand. But he collided with Beiranvand as he did so and was unable to stand up to celebrate the goal, his first at a World Cup.
Pulisic received treatment from the USMNT’s team of physios for several minutes and attempted to carry on playing. But he was in clear discomfort and, during the half-time interval, the US decided to withdraw him. Brenden Aaronson replaced him.
What happened to him after the match?
Pulisic received some treatment in the dressing room at half-time as his condition was assessed. “Yeah, he was just kind of sitting there,” Tim Ream said after the match.
Eventually, however, the decision was taken to introduce Aaronson, with Pulisic taken to a nearby hospital as the USMNT battled to defend the one-goal lead he had given them. There, he was diagnosed with a pelvic contusion.
Nine minutes and 53 seconds
After the full-time whistle had blown at the Al Thumama Stadium, cementing the USMNT’s place in the knockout stage of a World Cup for the first time since Brazil 2014, Pulisic congratulated his teammates on FaceTime.
“We FaceTimed him after from the locker room and we got to see him and he’s in good spirits,” Berhalter told journalists. “Those types of runs, that’s what he does. That’s the special quality he has. As soon as the ball is wide he goes in with intensity in the penalty box.”
It was at this time that Pulisic also shared a photograph from his Snapchat account that raised US hopes he could be fit in time for Saturday’s match against the Netherlands. “So fucking proud of my guys,” he wrote, along with a picture of him sitting on a hospital bed, right fist raised triumphantly. “I’ll be ready Saturday, don’t worry.”
Pulisic then left for the US team hotel, the Marsa Malaz Kempinski, located in the heart of The Pearl in Doha. A United States Soccer Federation spokesperson later told The Athletic he arrived back at the team hotel before the rest of the group arrived from the stadium.
A video tweeted by the USSF later on Tuesday showed Pulisic greeting his teammates upon their arrival back at the team hotel.
the hotel was ROWDY when we got back 🎉🎉🎉🎉 pic.twitter.com/xa5lBnDWO2
— US Men’s National Soccer Team (@USMNT) November 30, 2022
What did the USMNT say?
A USSF spokesperson told The Athletic: “Christian Pulisic has been diagnosed with a pelvic contusion and his status is day-to-day.”
USMNT feature badge with Pride colors at training base in Qatar
Um, what does that mean?
We’ll break it down.
First the easy part, which may have confused some of our UK readers. In US sports, ‘day-to-day’ is a common expression to use when talking about short-term injuries of the lowest concern designation. ‘Day-to-day’ injuries are fleeting, hence requiring daily reevaluation, and often mean a player might miss a training session on a given day.
In short: we’re talking days not weeks here and Pulisic might only be forced to miss a day or two. The problem is that the Qatar World Cup is the most condensed World Cup ever, and the USMNT only have three full days to prepare for their biggest match in eight years.
Pelvic contusion injuries are, meanwhile, fairly common in football, due to the repeated stresses the sport places on the joint.
And what do his teammates think of the situation?
They’re backing their man to recover in time for Saturday’s last-16 tie.
“I sent him a text and checked on him, and he said, ‘Best believe I’ll be ready on Saturday,'” McKennie revealed after the game.
“Obviously we’re very thankful that he threw his body there but the thing is we have 25 other guys aside from Christian who would do the same thing I believe.
“You see the statue Christian has and that he is willing to throw his body on the line. That should tell you enough about how close this team is.”
Numerous USMNT players made clear their admiration for Pulisic for selflessly throwing himself in harm’s way in an attempt to open the scoring.
“We love and we thank him and we’re through, so it’s a great feeling,” said Tim Weah, who also had the ball in the back of the net only to see his calm finish correctly ruled out for offside.
“He’s huge. Going back, him not qualifying for the last World Cup and then being here and qualifying us through that’s the work of God and I love him. (Pulisic) is so important to this team, he’s a key player, a leader and someone that we definitely need.”
Who could deputize for Pulisic in his absence?
Pulisic is one of the USMNT’s influential players. It would not be easy to replace him on the left. But Berhalter does have a few options in his 26-man squad.
On Tuesday, he turned to Aaronson. The Leeds United winger is a high-octane presser who would not let the Netherlands defense settle. But there are questions about his end product and he managed just 25 touches in 45 minutes against Iran. The Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris is another option, or Berhalter could opt for a curveball and deploy Dest, an attack-minded right back, as an inverted left winger. Consider that one unlikely, however.
And then there’s Giovanni Reyna. The 20-year-old’s lack of minutes became one of the major storylines from the end of the Wales match, but in Berhalter’s defense there wasn’t much of an opportunity to introduce the Borussia Dortmund player against Iran. Saturday could be the perfect time for Berhalter to call upon his ace in the hole.
Or, Berhalter could completely change his system to cope with Pulisic’s absence. He has three days to work it out.
(Photo by ODD ANDERSEN/AFP via Getty Images)