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.)
More and More, I Talk to the Dead--Margaret Renkl
NASHVILLE — After my mother died so suddenly — laughing at a rerun of “JAG” at 10 p.m., dying of a hemorrhagic stroke by dawn — I dreamed about her night after night. In every dream she was willfully, outrageously alive, unaware of the grief her death had caused. In every dream relief poured through me like a flash flood. Oh, thank God!
Then I would wake into keening grief all over again.
Years earlier, when my father learned he had advanced esophageal cancer, his doctor told him he had perhaps six months to live. He lived far longer than that, though I never thought of it as “living” once I learned how little time he really had. For six months my father was dying, and then he kept dying for two years more. I was still working and raising a family, but running beneath the thin soil of my own life was a river of death. My father’s dying governed my days.
After he died, I wept and kept weeping, but I rarely dreamed about my father the way I would dream about my mother nearly a decade later. Even in the midst of calamitous grief, I understood the difference: My father’s long illness had given me time to work death into the daily patterns of my life. My mother’s sudden death had obliterated any illusion that daily patterns are trustworthy.
Years have passed now, and it’s the ordinariness of grief itself that governs my days. The very air around me thrums with absence. I grieve the beloved high-school teacher I lost the summer after graduation and the beloved college professor who was my friend for more than two decades. I grieve the father I lost nearly 20 years ago and the father-in-law I lost during the pandemic. I grieve the great-grandmother who died my junior year of college and the grandmother who lived until I was deep into my 40s.
Some of those I grieve are people I didn’t even know. How can John Prine be gone? I hear his haunting last song, “I Remember Everything,” and I still can’t quite believe that John Prine is gone.
Jan. 30, 2023