RAYYAN, Qatar — Lying inside the goal, twisting in pain, Christian Pulisic was almost certain he had given the U.S. men’s national soccer team the lead against Iran on Tuesday in its World Cup group finale.
“They were just trying to keep their distance and make sure I was okay,” Pulisic said Thursday. “It didn’t really feel like a celebration, so I was worried it was offside — you never know nowadays — so I wasn’t sure what was going on.”
Two things happened: Pulisic had scored his first World Cup goal and suffered what team officials said was a pelvic contusion — an injury that sidelined him in the second half, sent him to the hospital for tests and forced him to watch the rest of the match on athletic trainer Harris Patel’s phone.
Two days after suffering a “very painful” injury, Pulisic on Thursday said he is aiming to return for the World Cup round-of-16 match Saturday against the Netherlands.
In his first comments since the incident, Pulisic described the Iranian goalkeeper’s knee crashing into him during the 38th minute of the 1-0 U.S. victory.
“My opportunity was there to beat the defender to the ball, and I was able to do that — and paid the price for it a bit,” he said in a news conference at the team’s training venue outside Doha. “You could see the video, [the contact] to a nice pelvis area. It was not nice but obviously very painful. But feeling better.”
Pulisic, 24, was scheduled to meet with the medical staff Thursday night to determine whether he would practice with the team. Initially open to reporters, the training session was later closed.
“Taking it day by day right now but doing everything in my power to be able to be out there on the field on Saturday,” said Pulisic, who is typically guarded with reporters but was relaxed and smiling as he and forward Tim Weah fielded questions for about 14 minutes.
The goal helped lift the young U.S. squad into the knockout round — four years after it missed the tournament entirely — and Pulisic was widely praised for his effort to get to the ball under perilous circumstances.
With a hard-charging central run, Pulisic redirected Sergiño Dest’s cross into the net an instant before he crashed into goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand. After the collision, medical staff rushed to his side and treated him for several minutes.
Team spokesman Michael Kammarman said Thursday the diagnosis of a pelvic contusion was “not a euphemism.” Pausing to describe the injury, Pulisic added with a laugh, “I didn’t get hit in the [testicles].”
“I’m all right,” he said. “It was very painful. That [pelvic] bone is there for a reason, to protect you. I hit it well. It was sore, but I’m getting better.”
Pulisic reentered the game Tuesday but ran gingerly and was replaced at halftime by Brenden Aaronson. While the second half got underway, he was taken to a hospital for tests.
“It was a crazy kind of experience,” he said. “The emotions were running so high. I was doing everything I could to continue playing, and it was all kind of a blur, to be honest.”
At the hospital, “they were checking my blood sugar and everything, and it was flying through the roof, but it wasn’t because of anything,” Pulisic said. “It’s just me stressed watching the game. But once I got through that and the final whistle blew, I was obviously very happy.”
After the match, his teammates and the coaching staff communicated with him on a raucous video phone call. Pulisic was already back at the team hotel when the bus returned from the stadium, and he greeted the delegation in the lobby.
In his first World Cup after being part of the squad that missed the 2018 tournament, Pulisic started all three Group B matches and assisted on Weah’s goal in the opener against Wales.
The Chelsea attacker credited his teammates Thursday with drawing away some of the pressure that had been mounting on him as the World Cup approached.
“A couple years ago, there were times where maybe I felt like I needed to do more, but with these guys, I don’t feel that way at all,” he said. “I know they have my back. I know when I went down and I see Brenden running on the pitch, I’m not worried at all because I know these guys. You see the talent, you see the work they’ve put in, and just the unity of this group is what makes it special and takes any pressure there might be off me.”
U.S. fans should appreciate the team’s effort and commitment as it pursues its first quarterfinal appearance since 2002, Pulisic said.
“I hope people watching, especially back home in the States, can see, ‘Wow, these guys are really giving everything for each other for this country,’ ” he said. “Without the brotherhood and family aspects, we wouldn’t be in this position.”
Pulisic wants to be remembered in this tournament for more than his first World Cup goal and the frightening collision.
“I’m hoping I haven’t had that moment yet,” he said. “I’m hoping it’s in front of me. It feels great to be where we’re at right now, but there’s still more to come.”
Notes: Forward Josh Sargent, who started two group matches and entered the other as a sub, is listed as day-to-day with a sore right ankle. He was injured late in the match against Iran.
World Cup in Qatar
World champions: Argentina has won the World Cup, defeating France in penalty kicks in a thrilling final in Lusail, Qatar, for its first world championship since 1986. Argentina was led by global soccer star Lionel Messi in what is expected to be his final World Cup appearance. France was bidding to become the first repeat champion since Brazil won consecutive trophies in 1958 and 1962.
Today’s WorldView: In the minds of many critics, especially in the West, Qatar’s World Cup will always be a tournament shrouded in controversy. But Qatar’s foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, wants people to take another view.
Perspective: “America is not a men’s soccer laughingstock right now. It’s onto something, and it’s more attuned to what’s working for the rest of the world rather than stubbornly forcing an American sports culture — without the benefit of best-of-the-best talent — into international competition.” Read Jerry Brewer on the U.S. men’s national team’s future.