Captain America Saves the Day
In the modest World Cup history of American men’s soccer*, there is always room for something new.
This year’s memory may very well be how Christian Pulisic propelled (a) the ball and (b) himself into the goal for what became the only score as the U.S. beat Iran and advanced to the knockout round.
Pulisic was hurt, barely hobbling off the field and going to the hospital rather than playing in the second half. The overnight word was that he had X-rays of the abdomen – no speculation about whether he would play again in this World Cup.
For now, Pulisic’s turning himself into a human bowling ball could become the stuff of legends – Willis Reed hobbling onto the court just before the final game as the Knicks beat the Lakers in the 1970 NBA finals and Kirk Gibson limping up to pinch-hit a homer for the LA Dodgers in the 1988 World Series.
Pulisic had been wearing a serene smile in the minutes before the match, as the American and Iran teams marched out for the ceremonial playing of the anthems.
I have a theory about the new look on Pulisic, who has often been the captain, based on his many vital goals. Instead, Coach Gregg Berhalter chose Tyler Adams to be the captain in this World Cup.
Adams, an active midfielder, has been the core of the team in these three games, showing up everywhere, a man on a mission. He also displayed a maturity worthy of a diplomat when lectured by an Iranian reporter in a press conference the other day, after some knuckleheads in the U.S. federation had altered a version of the Iranian flag, just what was needed in dicey times.)
(The poor Iranian players had a hollow look to them, because of the political overtones back home, rumors that Iranian women were being photographed by their government for wearing western fan outfits in the stands. And later there were concerns the Iran loss could be turned into more unrest, perhaps even scapegoating the players.)
By contrast, Pulisic’s relaxed demeanor was noticeable on tv – a major difference from the twitchy look he carries around with Chelsea, where he rarely gets to play much.
In the first two games in Qatar, in his first World Cup, Pulisic set up the only American goal in the first game, but his play was spotty, and his corner kicks were ineffective.
Had people been over-rating him? I began to wonder that myself.
But in Tuesday' third game, Pulisic seemed more centered, getting in the right position to score the goal before crashing into the keeper and the ground.
Pulisic’s goal came in the 38th minute, with 52 official minutes left, and an agonizing 9 more of extra time, with the TV reminding us, basically every minute, that the U.S. could advance only with a victory, not with a draw.
In a simultaneous match, England was on its way to beating Wales, 3-0, which meant Iran could have advanced with a draw, whereas the U.S. could only advance with 3 points from a victory.
The other American players saved the day in the steam bath in Qatar, with players on both sides limping from cramps as well as the normal knocks.
The World Cup did not always hold simultaneous third games in each group. In the first World Cup I covered, 1982, West Germany and Austria played in Gijón, Spain, after Algeria’s match was over, and they knew a 1-0 victory by West Germany would allow both teams to advance, so they waltzed and they waltzed, thereby screwing Algeria. That 1-0 result is now known as the Disgrace of Gijón.
The U.S. has had other operatic third matches in World Cup play. In 2002 in South Korea, they were drubbed, 3-1, by Poland but at the same time in another city, a referee doled out two red cards to Portugal, making it possible for the host team to advance, along with the Americans.
"This is a very good day for U.S. soccer," said Brad Friedel, the American goalkeeper, who added: "This was also a very lucky day for U.S. soccer.”
In 2010, the last of the eight World Cups I covered, the U.S. teetered into the third match with Algeria, needing a victory to advance.
In the first minute of extra time, the U.S. staged a full-court break, with keeper Tim Howard heaving an outlet pass to Landon Donovan, who advanced the ball to Jozy Altidore who centered the ball to Clint Dempsey who banged a shot off the keeper, but Donovan followed the ball and scored the goal. Instant history.
Now there is a new landmark – Christian Pulisic’s tumble into goalmouth, and into history, or at least into a match with the Netherlands on Saturday.
(*--the American women won their championships early and often, and now other nations have caught up, and good for them.)
(Below: Tyler Adams, U.S. Captain. Could be secretary of state. Check out his thoughtful longer version online.)
11/29/2022 10:19:11 pm
Hi George. I’m excited for Saturday. We’re definitely underdogs but this is a remarkable Holland team when compared to prior tournaments. Best, Michael
11/29/2022 10:20:50 pm
*not a remarkable team…
Edwin W. Martin Jr
11/29/2022 10:36:32 pm
A pleasure to read George on WC, while appreciating the team. Like the Good Old Days.
11/29/2022 11:04:14 pm
Congratulations! I was surprised your young guys could run and attack continuously through all 100 minutes. They will get another step in next World Cup surely. Remembering the match in 98 in Lyon, I was there before I found you, I feel good this match was conducted in peace.
11/30/2022 07:54:17 am
11/30/2022 03:33:59 am
I rate Holland as the least favorite of the the "favorites". They are beatable by this USA team...if the USA can find a way to score goals...and that is a big IF.
11/30/2022 07:59:28 am
Michael and John -- with Philadelphia area in common. You both know your football, and I get it. A few nations carry the aura of generations past. (England, 1966, for that matter.) And Netherlands brings up the creativity of Michels and Cruyff. Onward. GV
11/30/2022 08:20:38 am
Agreed. Though I hope Pulisic returns, he should not be expected to serve as a striker. He is more well suited to his heroics in the first match, setting up Weah, than yesterday. Who else is there?
11/30/2022 09:07:53 am
Andy, this will be debated from now to an hour or two before gametime Saturday when the starters are announced, I agree with your evaluation -- but Sargent went out with an injury, also. Then there is the Gio Reyna mystery. I had him pegged for a regular job this World Cup....but perhaps the staff has concerns about his readiness to play a lot of minutes. The Reynas are a class act -- and I hear no griping -- but still....GV
11/30/2022 09:24:37 am
I just had the common sense to check the headlines. Pulisic has been diagnosed with a pelvic contusion, is listed as day-to-day, will hopefully play v. the Netherlands . . . .
12/1/2022 12:51:16 pm
Some interesting teams eliminated, any that are big surprises, I’m no expert?
12/1/2022 08:22:06 pm
12/1/2022 10:39:29 pm
Thanks GV, just what I wanted,
12/2/2022 08:25:01 am
Ed and George,
12/2/2022 09:51:08 am
I am no genius on predicting the outcome of sporting events, but I did mention to George that the USWNT was young and very full of enthusiasm. That is an unpredictable combination that cab be full of surprises.
12/2/2022 12:40:49 pm
Alan, he was my pick for this year's
12/2/2022 02:18:07 pm
Goalkeeping is a difficult position under normal conditions. Add the the World Cup knockout stage and the pressure must be enormous.
12/2/2022 06:45:12 pm
Alan, PK is certainly not automatic. I saw a really weak shot today, fail. (They all blur...) As you know, there is plenty of tape on shooters and keepers. In 1986, I was covering the WC in Mexico. In the final minute, Hugo Sanchez, one of the first Mexican players to star overseas, took a PK ...and was stopped. Turned out, Paraguay had film on Sanchez, and the keeper knew what to look for -- technology had arrived. Mexico lost, was eliminated....and on the long ride back from Azteca to downtown, the huge city was silent. The World Cup never regained its energy for the home fans....GV
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“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.