FIFA World Cup: Captain America and a new beginning

Driven by the disappointment of not qualifying for the last World Cup, a Pulisic-inspired golden generation advance to knockout stages

Published: 01st December 2022 01:11 AM  |   Last Updated: 01st December 2022 01:11 AM   |  A+A-

Pulisic & Co. (Photo | AP)

Express News Service

CHENNAI: Christian Pulisic threw himself at the ball. Iran keeper, Alireza Beiranvand, was in close attendance so there was every chance that Pulisic would harm himself. Yet, he didn't care. He was fuelled by the memory of October 10, 2017.

In a World Cup qualifier at Trinidad & Tobago, US, prohibitive favourites, arrived at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva. On the line was a remarkable run that saw them qualify for all World Cups from 1990.

Over a remarkable 90 minutes, T&T pulled off the unthinkable. Pulisic scored one that night but it wasn't enough. People associated with the USMNT continue to talk about that night, it's almost a verb. For Pulisic, it was more than a disappointment. It had become a millstone. Nineteen then, he was hailed as US football's great modern hope. Only a teen, yet the disappointment hit him full on.

“I just want every USA soccer fan reading this to understand that no matter what decisions are made over these next couple of years … no matter what changes are implemented … no matter who the coach is, or what the roster looks like: I’m going to be obsessed with winning. And I’m going to be obsessed with doing my part to help US Soccer get over the hump," he wrote in a letter addressed to US fans a month or so after that night in Couva.

"Because yeah, O.K. … we’re not going to the World Cup."
"But there’s going to be a World Cup after that. And a World Cup after that. And a World Cup after that. And I think — I hope — that we’re going to be able to build something, here, with U.S. Soccer... So let’s plan on it, then — 2022."

Like he promised, 2022 was here. He was yards off the cross sent in by Sergino Dest but the only option was to launch himself. He made contact with the ball and the ball nestled in the back of the net. US 1-0 Iran.

ALSO READ | Just not Football: The human cost of Qatar 2022 World Cup

While the US fans were jumping up and down, Pulisic was down, hurt and writhing in pain inside Iran's goal. He's known as Captain America for obvious reasons. He lived up to his name but at a considerable cost to his immediate health. Pulisic tried to continue gamely but he knows his game was done. The last 20 minutes was filled with tension. US, who had run out of gas thanks to their high energy and intense pressing, grimly launched the ball up the field without an attacking outlet. Iran came close several times but their hunger and desire is not matched by the quality, understandable because of what's at stake.

The US hang on for a priceless win. The reward is a round of 16 clash against Netherlands on Saturday night. Pulisic, suffering from pelvic contusion, is touch and go.

Between that night in Couva and Tuesday night in Doha, Pulisic has grown up. He has gone from US' next great hope to be a bit-part player at Chelsea. He battled depression and received professional help. He also became the first USMNT player to win the Champions League.

Whether Pulisic plays or not against Netherlands is secondary. Because, at some level, the Chelsea attacker is now a part of a golden generation. Before he came along, they were a hard-working but limited team that had a floor but no ceiling. Now there is not only a floor but a ceiling that continues to rise.

ALSO READ | EXPLAINER: Politically, not too correct in this World Cup

They are the youngest side in the tournament. So, it's not a surprise that they rely a lot on rapid transitions and intense pressing from the off. That midfield of theirs can lay claim to be one of the better ones of this tournament (that they controlled the game against England was not a fluke). Weston McKennie, 24, a box-to-box operator, plays for Juventus. Skipper Tyler Adams plays for Leeds. Yunas Musah, 20, plays for Valencia. At the back, Dest, who bombs up and down the right flank, is 22. He plays for AC Milan. Keeper Matt Turner is at Arsenal. Playmaker Gio Reyna plays for Dortmund. He's 20. Pressing machine Brendan Aaronson is Adams' teammate at Leeds. He's 22. Tim Weah, son of former Ballon d'Or winner, George, is 22. He plays for Lille. Long story short, the federation decided to give youth a go at the expense of experienced players who have been to previous World Cups.

Leeds coach Jesse Marsch, who played more than a decade in the MLS before moving across the Atlantic, wrote this for The Athletic while previewing the team's chances. "I know inexperience will be a factor, but I give big credit to US Soccer and to (coach) Gregg Berhalter because it would have been easy to keep veteran guys such as Michael Bradley, Brad Guzan and others, players that were and are still very good players, and feel the security of: “They’ve been there. They know what it takes. They’re going to help lead us into the new phase with these young players,” he wrote. "But Gregg and the federation committed entirely to young players and now when you look at it, of course achieving qualification was a must given the fact we missed out in 2018, but if this group can do well in this tournament, you can use it as a springboard for 2026. It was really well done and really well thought-out and it gives us a chance to be better in 2026.

"And youth doesn’t have to be a detriment."

Their stated aim is to go really, really deep at their home World Cup in 2026. Can they? Marsch adds in the same piece. "It’s a foolish thing to even say out loud, but can we be contenders at home? To even say that out loud is ridiculous. But we do think this is a golden generation of players. We do think that — on pure potential — this is the best group we’ve ever had. So can they develop and grow in a way where, in three and a half years, they can be talked about as semi-finalists? Finalists?

"That is the hope of what 2026 can mean."

At some level, Pulisic is partly responsible for how this band of centennials have developed so quickly. A debut for Dortmund when he was 17 meant other players saw the Bundesliga as the ideal pathway for first-team football in an elite European league. McKennie, Josh Sargent, Adams, Reyna, Joe Scally, Chris Gloster... exposure to first-team games at a young age at a very high level has a direct effect on the ceiling.  

What they do against the Netherlands won't define this golden generation. What they can possibly achieve at home in 2026 is the endgame for Pulisic & Co. At stake is something more fundamental. It's to convince a country that their culture has enough space for football alongside the 'big four' of American football, ice hockey, basketball and baseball. 


Disclaimer : We respect your thoughts and views! But we need to be judicious while moderating your comments. All the comments will be moderated by the editorial. Abstain from posting comments that are obscene, defamatory or inflammatory, and do not indulge in personal attacks. Try to avoid outside hyperlinks inside the comment. Help us delete comments that do not follow these guidelines.

The views expressed in comments published on are those of the comment writers alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of or its staff, nor do they represent the views or opinions of The New Indian Express Group, or any entity of, or affiliated with, The New Indian Express Group. reserves the right to take any or all comments down at any time.

flipboard facebook twitter whatsapp