Nine minutes of compensatory time?!?!

And exhale.

Welcome to the World Cup.

The United States Men’s National Team advances to the Round of 16 after a thrilling, heart-pounding, year-of-a-lifetime group stage finale.

The young stars, who needed to earn their stripes before a ball was kicked in Qatar, cut through the external noise of a politically charged match against Iran to produce their signature moment in a 1-0 win.

The entire build-up to the tournament has centered around this young squad of talented but unproven players righting the wrongs of a failed 2018 cycle. They want to write a new narrative about American football.

Brash, fearless and capable of fighting anyone in the world.

“We’re brothers,” linebacker Weston McKenney told FOX in his postgame interview. โ€œWe love this kind of thing, we love the pressure, we love the excitement. We are a young team, we have our own arrogance, our own style, our own way of communicating with each other. You see we did it today. In the end, it was a bit of a sad moment, but we did it.”

However, for this World Cup to not be a failure, they needed to defeat Iran in front of not only a record audience here in the States, but the entire world. After England missed out on an opener against Wales and then drew 0-0, it all came down to the final against Iran, a rematch of the 2006 group stage that saw the Iranians win and knock the USA out of this World Cup .

It was always going to come down to the final against Iran, wasn’t it?

“It’s tension,” manager Gregg Berhalter said after having to navigate the geopolitical minefield that follows the game against Iran in a tense contest that included those nine minutes of added time. “I think I have less hair on my head now.”

USA’s Weston McKenney (8) celebrates after teammate Christian Pulisic scores during the World Cup Group B soccer match between Iran and the USA at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. (AP Photo /Ashley Landis)

The decisive moment came in the 38th minute thanks to Christian Pulisic, the team’s talisman, who literally put his body on the line for his country. McKenney delivered a beautiful diagonal pass to right-back Serginho Desta, who snuck in behind the defence. Dest played the ball back through the net to Pulisic, who jumped up and fired the ball into the net as it hit the Iranian keeper.

“We’re very grateful that he threw his body out there, but the thing is, we’ve got 25 other guys besides Christian who would have done the same thing,” McKenney said. “We know what our goal is, we know what we want to do, we know what we want to achieve. Everyone is ready to give everything.”

Pulisic was ruled out at half-time with a so-called abdominal injury and his status will be the biggest question heading into Saturday’s knockout game against the Netherlands.

“It’s great when one of your best players is also one of your hardest workers,” Berhalter said. โ€œOf course he is. I can’t say enough positive things about Christian.”

It wasn’t just Pulisic’s brave goal that decided the game. It required dogged determination in the second half as Iran sent players forward and rushed and begged the referee in desperation.

Tim Ream, the granddaddy of the group at 35 and called in as a last resort due to injuries to other centre-backs, was huge not only on Tuesday but in all three group games. Yunus Musa, a rising star on his 20th birthday, has led the team forward, conceding past challenges and putting the team in dangerous positions. Tyler Adams, a level-headed captain at the ripe old age of 23 who had tried to impress him with such class in the Iranian media the day before, buzzed down the field with a well-timed interception.

It all led to the first defining moment for this team.

First, because there can be many more.

Next is the Netherlands.

โ€œI always say it’s us against the world,โ€ forward Tim Weah said. “No one believed that the USA could play good soccer.”

To learn more about Kyle, follow him on Twitter @kj_franko and contact him at

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