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'Tough as nails' - USMNT hero Pulisic puts his body on the line to keep World Cup dream alive

8:00 AM EST 11/30/22
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The Chelsea winger stepped up to the plate when his country needed him most, scoring a goal of immense bravery to clinch a 1-0 win over Iran.

How cruel is it that Christian Pulisic celebrated the biggest goal of his career from a hospital bed?

As his teammates came together in the locker room to relish in what they'd accomplished, Pulisic underwent scans at a nearby hospital.

Music was surely blasting back in the bowels of Al Thumama Stadium, as evidenced by the absolutely colossal speaker wheeled around by DeAndre Yedlin postgame, but all Pulisic likely heard was the scans going off in some medical facility in Qatar.

He did join in on the celebration through Facetime eventually, with teammates saying he was in good spirits after watching them win from afar.

But those teammates also admitted that they truly wished Pulisic had been there to celebrate the moment that he was so vital in creating.

It wasn't supposed to be this way for American soccer's superstar. Or maybe it was. Fate has a funny way of working out, doesn't it?

Pulisic was always destined to score this goal, the one that sent the USMNT to the knockout stage with a 1-0 win over Iran.

It just made so much sense that it was him, the player that has risen to levels higher than any American player, that led the U.S. to this point.

Who else could step in a moment like that and, ultimately, add another chapter to his own legacy, one that now includes a World Cup game-winning goal that saw him exchange his own health for a USMNT win?

Talk about endearing yourself to fans. What more could you ask of a star player?

Due to that exchange, though, Pulisic was never given that moment to celebrate what he'd accomplished.

He never had that celebration to show off that tiger eye tattoo, to do the Griddy, to fist-pump in jubilation or to do whatever celebration he'd always dreamed of doing when he envisioned this in his head time after time.

Instead, as his goal went into the back of the net, sending his teammates and the American fans in attendance into a rapture, he lay in the net wincing in pain. He'd bundled the ball over the line but sacrificed his body in the process.

"It just shows his bravery," said USMNT midfielder Kellyn Acosta. "You just want it so bad. I'm glad that he was finally rewarded with a goal. I know he's super-hungry in front of the net.

"Knowing Christian, he's tough as nails."

Despite the ugliness of it all, it is a goal that will go down in USMNT history.

It may not have the beauty of Landon Donovan against Algeria or the overall importance of Paul Caligiuri's 'Shot Heard Around the World', but for a player of his stature to score on this stage, that automatically puts this finish in USMNT folklore.

The goal, in a way, was quintessential Pulisic. He's often associated with his pace or flair but, more often than not, the goals he scores do come from pure effort.

As Sergino Dest broke free down the right side, Pulisic saw his chance. He darted between two defenders and made a push for the backpost. Even with Alireza Beiranvand rushing out, Pulisic went all the way in.

He got a touch to it and pushed it over the line, but collided with Beiranvand in the process. Afterward, he lay motionless for several minutes before eventually hobbling his way down the sideline.

"It goes like that in his career," said captain Tyler Adams. "Backpost arriving, he's brilliant in that way with the time he is in the box to get in front of that ball.

"He'll do anything for his team in order for us to win. He's a huge player for us."

Adams isn't shortchanging it: Pulisic is huge. Now, though, the U.S. is facing the possibility of a knockout round without their star at 100 percent.

You have to admire the effort Pulisic put forward to finish out the half with a Willis Reed-like comeback but he surely didn't look like a player that was able to continue on in a World Cup game.

U.S. Soccer confirmed after the match that Pulisic was at the hospital with an abdominal injury and that his status is still unknown.

He'll have until Saturday to rest up before the U.S. face the Netherlands and the man himself texted WestonMcKennie to tell him that "You best believe I'll be ready."

Let's hope so, because it remains to be seen who would, hypothetically, replace Pulisic if he can't play.

Could it be Brenden Aaronson, who came in for the Chelsea star in the second half to provide his endless energy? Or could it be Gio Reyna, who was conspicuously absent once again for the second of three World Cup games?

His teammates, though, aren't worried about that yet. They have little doubt Pulisic will be back.

"We wish he was here to celebrate this one because obviously it was his goal," said defender Walker Zimmerman, who came off the bench to help the U.S. lock down the win.

"It was a huge play that put us into the knockout stages and that's what we expect from our players, our big time players like him.

"We're all so happy for him and hopefully he rests up and comes back to contribute."

Added Adams: "He’ll hang in there. I know he’ll do anything to play in the next game. So, we’ll be counting on him.”

They've been counting on him for several years, since he was a 17-year-old teenager hoping to guide the U.S. to the 2018 World Cup.

Ultimately, that pursuit failed, with the lasting image of it all being Pulisic crying on the sidelines as the USMNT's World Cup dreams came to an end.

Since that day, it had all been building to this moment, this goal. And Pulisic scored it, just like he always believed he would.

It may not have looked like he'd imagined it. It surely didn't feel like he'd imagined it. In his head, it was all probably much sweeter.

But there's more to come from Pulisic, who remains the USMNT's bonafide star. He has his first World Cup goal and, if he has anything to say about it, there will be more chances to celebrate further down the line.

And maybe, the Soccer Gods will be kind enough to ensure that this is the last goal he ever celebrates from a hospital bed.