Updated: Apr 29
Alvin Jones, Staff Writer
Christian Pulisic (right) scores to give the USA the lead against Iran. Photo//Christian Charisius/Picture Alliance via Getty Images
Five years ago on a pitch in Trinidad, the USMNT experienced their worst, most embarrassing loss ever. Needing a win to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the Americans slumped to a 2-1 defeat to Trinidad and Tobago. A pair of first half goals condemned the US, who missed the tournament for the first time since 1986. The then 19-year-old Christian Pulisic was America’s lone goal scorer on the day. The enduring image of that game was of Pulisic, squatting on the pitch in tears after the game.
On Tuesday, five years, one month, and 19 days after the Trinidad game, the US found themselves back in the World Cup in need of a win to qualify for the knockout stages. Despite a solid performance against England, the Americans needed nothing less than a win against Iran.
Iran was fresh off a dramatic 2-0 win against Wales. Iranian goals in the 98th and 101st gave Iran the advantage going into the final group stage game. A draw would be enough to see Iran through.
The buildup to the game was intense. The noise in the stands was deafening. This was the USMNT’s biggest game since that fateful day in Trinidad.
The opening signs were promising for the Americans. A 10th minute header from Pulisic was directed at Iran’s keeper Beiranvand for an easy save. At 16 minutes, Sergino Dest crossed from the right into the box. Iran’s keeper punched the ball and the danger away. A longshot from Josh Sargent took a deflection off of an Iranian defender. Tim Weah had a free header but could not generate any power from just in front of the 6-yard box, an easy save for Beiranvand.
The chance came at the 37th minute mark. Tyler Adams laid a pass off to Weston McKennie. McKennie, from the center of the park, played a pass to Dest. Dest made a well-timed run on the right beyond the Iranian defensive line into the box. Dest headed the ball across the face of goal to a striding Pulisic. Pulisic tapped the ball in and past Beiranvand. Iranian defenders Rezaeian and Majid Hosseini could only watch on. 1-0 to the United States.
As the ball crossed the line, Pulisic collided with Beiranvand and laid on the pitch for several minutes. He finished off the first half as America went into halftime up by a goal. A late Weah goal was later disallowed after a tight offside call.
Half two saw Brendan Aaronson replace Pulisic. Iranians grew into the game, only needing a goal. A 51st minute cross found Mehdi Taremi who went wide of the goal before a foul was called on Iran. Saman Ghoddos placed another cross from the right wide in minute 64; it was Iran’s best chance of the night. A 69th minute shot from Saeed Ezatolahi glanced over the goal from long range. Iran was piling on pressure.
After an injury to Sargent, Haji Wright came on for America. American manager Gregg Berhalter brought on Shaq Moore and Walker Zimmerman in a bid to park the bus and seal the win.
In the 92nd minute, a free kick from Rezaeian found defender Pouraliganji who placed a header wide.
The most controversial moment came in moment 97. A late ball into the box was headed into the box and beyond U.S. goaltender Matt Turner, who failed to collect the ball after charging off of his line. Luckily, Zimmerman was there and cleared the ball off of the line.
Iranian fans and players protested as they believed American center back Cameron Carter-Vickers fouled Taremi in an attempt to stop the ball from getting in the air. Taremi fell, but the referees thought differently. The game ended two minutes later. The USA would go through with a 1-0 win.
Five years after breaking down after missing the World Cup, Pulisic scored in a World Cup. Pulisic’s goal was his 22nd and the most important goal so far for the USMNT.
The Americans will play the Netherlands on Saturday. Five years after heartbreak, a place in the knockout stages.