No pain, no gain! USMNT winners, losers & ratings as Christian Pulisic sacrifices body in iconic World Cup win vs Iran

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It took a monumental effort from the United States men's national team, but the Stars and Stripes are through to the last 16 after a 1-0 win over Iran

For years, everyone involved with the USMNT spoke of changing the perception of American soccer, of turning a sleeping giant into the team everyone believes it could be.

The giant isn't awake yet, not even close. Soccer is still fighting for respect. But by outlasting Iran 1-0 in its final World Cup group stage game on Tuesday, the U.S. moved one step closer to the powerhouse it aims to become.

After so many stumbles, that's a huge accomplishment.

It didn't come from the free-flowing, attack-minded play that head coach Gregg Berhalter has preached so much since he took over. Instead, it came with the good old-fashioned American grit that has defined this team for much of its history.

Many had questioned if this team of youngsters had that mental fortitude, the ability to simply withstand, and embrace, the chaos. It failed to show its mettle before. At Al Thumama Stadium, though, the USMNT bunkered and batted away Iran's desperate attempts to nab a late equalizer that would have sent the Stars and Stripes home.

Christian Pulisic's first-half goal was all the USMNT needed, an iconic winning moment for a player that remains the nation's biggest soccer superstar. He converted despite the damage it caused to his body. It came as part of an opening 45 minutes that saw the U.S. take the game to Iran, the same way it did England and Wales.

In the second half, it was a matter of hanging on. Doing what it could not do in the 1-1 draw with Wales earlier in the tournament.

This time, there would be no catastrophic mistake, no lapse in judgment. The defense came close to breaking, but, as it turned out, this team carries an instinct for survival.

A date with the Netherlands follows, and what a game that will be. Based on what the USMNT has shown, U.S. fans should feel confident but not arrogant. Thoughts of the next game are for another day, though.

The sleeping giant is still asleep, but the USMNT isn't ready to rest just yet. There's more work to be done in Qatar.

  1. The Winners
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    The Winners

    Christian Pulisic:

    How unfortunate that he didn't get to celebrate his moment, considering how much we all know he wanted it.

    The USMNT's superstar finally got his superstar contribution, the goal that put his side ahead in its moment of need. He'd shown flashes in the opening two games, but this was no mere flash. It was tangible.

    But, in scoring the goal that sent the U.S. to the knockout stage, Pulisic put his body on the line. Worth it, I think he'd say. He came back on but never looked quite the same before being substituted at half-time.

    In a way, the injury has added to the legendary nature of his finish. Toughness in a sport that some skeptical Americans have long tried to paint as soft.

    It's a goal that will go down in history, one that caused a whole country to celebrate even if he couldn't.

    Cameron Carter-Vickers:

    The big surprise on the team sheet more than justified his selection.

    Carter-Vickers replaced Walker Zimmerman, a stalwart who had started both of the World Cup games so far. Benching Zimmerman was a big call by Berhalter, especially given the fact that Carter-Vickers and Tim Ream had never played together.

    Consider it a stroke of genius.

    Likely brought in due to his ability to contain Iran's counters, Carter-Vickers settled into the game nicely. The center back lost a few aerial duals early, but grew as the game went on, limiting Iran even as the trailing team pushed forward.

    Credit must also go to Ream, who was faultless yet again and may just be the USMNT's most impressive player at this tournament. What a game it was for the two center backs, both of whom seemed like they wouldn't even be in this squad a month or two ago.

    American soccer:

    Those nine minutes felt like an eternity. So have the eight years that have preceded this moment.

    American soccer is back on the big stage, and the road here wasn't pretty. No one will care, though. All that matters is that the USMNT is back.

    The U.S. survived a difficult group, outplaying each opponent for extended stretches. Back to the round of 16 it goes with a country behind them after eight years in the wilderness.

    The American soccer fan has waited so long for this, a chance to test the national team against the Netherlands in a do-or-die knockout match. And it'll be a big test, one this team will be very eager for after barely surviving Iran.

  2. The Losers
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    The Losers


    It had its chances, that's for sure.

    Iran deserved at least one, maybe more. On a different day, the USMNT would be heading home wondering why it invited so much pressure.

    One shot wide, a header just past the post, a shot lifted over the bar. One could have, and probably should have, hit the back of the net.

    You can't say Iran didn't deserve to move on, especially given what it showed after that 6-2 loss to England. What a bounce back from a team that many thought would end up being cannon fodder for the other three in the group.

    As it turns out, that England game was an aberration. This was a mentally tough team that played a tough game. A strong showing amid turmoil that goes far beyond sports.

    Gio Reyna:

    Berhalter denied all talks of a rift, and there's no reason to believe he's lying. But it remains a surprise just how little Reyna has done to impact this World Cup.

    Reyna was on the bench again, as to be expected given the two guys starting ahead of him on the wing. And, when Pulisic came out with an injury, Berhalter turned to Brenden Aaronson. Justifiably so, you could certainly argue, given the Leeds star's ability to press.

    But what does Reyna have to do to get a game? In the USMNT's 4-3-3 system, is it fair to think there just may not be a position for him?

    The U.S. doesn't play with a number 10 and Reyna is nowhere near as quick as Pulisic or Weah. Does he just not fit the game plan? It's possible.

    At some point, though, Reyna will likely be needed. He's too talented and too creative not to contribute. The question is if he'll be sharp enough to help when that moment comes.

  3. USMNT ratings: Defense
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    USMNT ratings: Defense

    Matt Turner (7/10):

    No spectacular saves, but he made the solid ones.

    Sergino Dest (7/10):

    Taken his game to another level at this World Cup. Was very smooth with no defensive lapses.

    Cameron Carter-Vickers (8/10):

    An absolute monster. Justified Berhalter's call with a standout performance that saw him play plenty of bully ball.

    Tim Ream (7/10):

    Fantastic again. Worth reiterating that he wasn't involved at qualifiers at all.

    Antonee Robinson (6/10):

    A few loose touches and did get caught up field a few times, but mostly OK.

  4. Midfield
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    Weston McKennie (6/10):

    Was sloppier than last game, but did hit two fantastic diagonal balls, including one on the goal. Also avoided a yellow, which is great news.

    Tyler Adams (9/10):

    It's basically to be expected at this point. No USMNT player has played at a higher level this tournament.

    Yunus Musah (7/10):

    Typical Musah. Dribbled all over the midfield and was generally successful.

  5. Attack
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    Tim Weah (5/10):

    Should have had two goals, ended up with zero. Was active, but just not quite there. Will regret rushing that first-half header.

    Josh Sargent (7/10):

    Was better than most would give him credit for. His little runs opened up a lot of space for the USMNT to attack into.

    Christian Pulisic (8/10):

    Literally put it all on the line to score the goal the U.S. needed. Survived until the half before succumbing to his injury.

  6. Subs & Manager
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    Subs & Manager

    Brenden Aaronson (6/10):

    Was definitely active after replacing Pulisic, pressing and running as he usually does.

    Kellyn Acosta (6/10):

    Still confused why Musah took that free-kick over the LAFC midfielder, a true dead ball specialist.

    Haji Wright (5/10):

    Probably wasn't the guy the U.S. needed in this situation. Wasted a golden chance late. Pressing was lackluster. Why not Ferreira?

    Walker Zimmerman (N/A):

    Brought on late to bunker.

    Shaq Moore (N/A):

    Same as above, but did have one nervy header out of play.

    Gregg Berhalter (7/10):

    Got the starters spot on. Subs left a little to be desired, but the USMNT survived so can you fault him?