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Christian Pulisic stepped up when the USMNT needed him most

The U.S. star gave up his body to score in a must-win game.

IR Iran v USA: Group B - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Photo by Marvin Ibo Guengoer - GES Sportfoto/Getty Images

The United States men’s national team is through to the Round of 16 at the World Cup and it was their highest-profile player who scored the goal to get them there. Giving up his body and potentially sacrificing the rest of his tournament in the process, Christian Pulisic has secured his spot in USMNT folklore with his heroics in the 1-0 win over Iran.

While the rest of his teammates were jubilantly celebrating their qualification for the knockout rounds, the American star was on his way to the hospital after suffering an abdominal injury flinging himself at the ball to score the game’s only goal.

Dubbed the golden child of American soccer since he was 16 years old, this moment was a culmination of hard work and destiny. Trials and tribulations were plenty along the way. His crumpled body was the emblematic image of the USA’s failures in the last World Cup cycle, but now he’s responsible for the biggest moment of the team’s run in Qatar so far.

Even after setting up the only goal in the 1-1 draw with Wales in the opening group match, Pulisic was drawing criticism for not being more influential in the team’s attack. It’s not rare for the forward to be put under the microscope by critics. He is a constant magnet for judgment on both the club and international levels. While his consistency to produce can be debated, it’s becoming more and more clear that Pulisic has a knack for showing up when it matters most.

Flying toward goal and giving up his body to score the winner against Iran is just the latest moment of heroics he’s displayed in important matches. It was Pulisic’s penalty kick against Mexico in the Nations League final last year that won them that competition. It’s also easy to forget that he scored a crucial goal in the Trinidad & Tobago match in Couva that gave the U.S. a chance to get back in the match the ultimately fell short. When the U.S. need a moment of magic on the big occasion, Pulisic has lived up to the massive and sometimes unreasonable expectations placed onto him.

Comparisons to Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey as the USMNT’s best-ever player have followed Pulisic his whole career. It’s these types of moments where the national team need their star players to make an impact. Donovan had his storybook moments in 2002 and the famous goal against Algeria in 2010. Dempsey is the only American male to score in three different World Cups. This was Pulisic’s first big moment on the biggest stage but it was one that puts him on the level with those two great players with plenty of time to surpass them.

No one knows what the future holds for Christian Pulisic both in the long-term of his career and as it to relates to this World Cup as he’s being evaluated for an injury. But one thing is becoming pretty clear, if there’s a big moment the U.S. needs a star player to step up, he is willing and able to do whatever it takes to make sure that player is him.