Pulisic McKennie USMNT GFXGetty / GOAL

No pain, no gain! USMNT winners, losers & ratings as Christian Pulisic sacrifices body in iconic World Cup win vs Iran

For years, everyone involved with the USMNT spoke of changing the perception of American soccer, of turning a sleeping giant into the team everyone believes it could be.

The giant isn't awake yet, not even close. Soccer is still fighting for respect. But by outlasting Iran 1-0 in its final World Cup group stage game on Tuesday, the U.S. moved one step closer to the powerhouse it aims to become.

After so many stumbles, that's a huge accomplishment.

It didn't come from the free-flowing, attack-minded play that head coach Gregg Berhalter has preached so much since he took over. Instead, it came with the good old-fashioned American grit that has defined this team for much of its history.

Many had questioned if this team of youngsters had that mental fortitude, the ability to simply withstand, and embrace, the chaos. It failed to show its mettle before. At Al Thumama Stadium, though, the USMNT bunkered and batted away Iran's desperate attempts to nab a late equalizer that would have sent the Stars and Stripes home.

Christian Pulisic's first-half goal was all the USMNT needed, an iconic winning moment for a player that remains the nation's biggest soccer superstar. He converted despite the damage it caused to his body. It came as part of an opening 45 minutes that saw the U.S. take the game to Iran, the same way it did England and Wales.

In the second half, it was a matter of hanging on. Doing what it could not do in the 1-1 draw with Wales earlier in the tournament.

This time, there would be no catastrophic mistake, no lapse in judgment. The defense came close to breaking, but, as it turned out, this team carries an instinct for survival.

A date with the Netherlands follows, and what a game that will be. Based on what the USMNT has shown, U.S. fans should feel confident but not arrogant. Thoughts of the next game are for another day, though.

The sleeping giant is still asleep, but the USMNT isn't ready to rest just yet. There's more work to be done in Qatar.

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