Fall 2022

USMNT qualifies for World Cup behind faith-driven Christian Pulisic, Walker Zimmerman

It was frustrating at times, exhilarating at others. There was a renewed sense of optimism, plenty of tension, and ultimately success.

The U.S. men’s national team booked its place in this winter’s World Cup in Qatar despite losing 2-0 in Costa Rica on Wednesday night. A significant advantage in goal differential — the first tiebreaker — meant the U.S. would secure the final automatic qualification spot for the region unless Costa Rica won by six or more goals.

> Subscribe to Sports Spectrum Magazine for more stories where sports and faith connect <<

It is the team’s first World Cup appearance since 2014, but its eighth in the last nine tournaments dating back to 1990.

“I’m extremely proud of this group,” Chelsea star Christian Pulisic told CBS after the game. “It’s a bit of a weird feeling right now because I hate to lose so much. But I’m really proud and can’t wait to go to the World Cup.”

Pulisic led the way in the final round of qualification with a team-high five goals even though he only appeared in 10 of the team’s 14 games. It was his hat trick against Panama on Sunday night that all but clinched a World Cup berth for the U.S.

After converting two penalties, the 23-year-old finished off the hat trick with what might be the best goal of his career:

The performances continue a run of success for Pulisic, during which he’s found strength in his faith in God. After contributing a goal and an assist in Chelsea’s 3-1 aggregate victory over Real Madrid in the semifinals of last season’s Champions League, Pulisic pointed to the role God plays in his life.

“I’ve had to continue to prove myself over and over again,” he said in an interview with CBS. “But, as always, I reach out to God and He gives me strength. With that behind me, nothing can stop me, really.”

Chelsea went on to defeat fellow Premier League side Manchester City in the final and win the premier competition in club soccer for a second time.

Following his transfer to Chelsea from German power Borussia Dortmund in 2019, Pulisic found himself alone in a new country. Just as he might have started to get comfortable, the pandemic hit and added to the feeling of isolation.

It was during that time Pulisic’s faith started to blossom.

“Something that I’ve grown a lot closer with this past year is my belief in God, especially being alone over here,” he told GQ in January 2021. “I feel like I always have Someone who’s with me. I don’t know how I would do any of this without that feeling that He’s watching over me and there’s a reason why I’m here.”

And as Pulisic has headlined the U.S. attack, Nashville SC center back Walker Zimmerman has emerged as one of the U.S.’s most reliable defenders. The 28-year-old started nine of the team’s final 11 qualifiers and served as captain in two of them. He even got involved offensively, contributing a goal and an assist.

He joined the Sports Spectrum Podcast last November to discuss his faith journey and what it means to represent his country.

“[Playing for the national team has] always been the dream, and really, when you take a step back and realize you’re living out your dream, is something that’s really special,” Zimmerman said on the podcast. “That’s when I think you start to feel really proud about all the hard work that you’ve put in and all the sacrifices that you’ve made along the way.”

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Walker Zimmerman (@thewalkerzim)

Zimmerman became a father in June, which has given him a greater appreciation for the love his Heavenly Father has shown him.

“Really, it’s about finding the patience and learning about how sacrificial God’s love is for us through my love for my son,” Zimmerman said on the podcast. “It really kind of changes the picture for me and helps you realize actually what a great sacrifice Jesus was on the cross when you think about God giving His only Son for us.”

The U.S. will learn who it will face in the World Cup group stage during Friday’s draw. The tournament begins Nov. 21 and the final will be played on Dec. 18.

RELATED STORIES:
Christian Pulisic reaches out to God for strength with Chelsea in league finals
USMNT star Christian Pulisic says he’s grown closer to God during past year
Walker Zimmerman named MLS Defender of the Year for 2nd straight season
Walker Zimmerman leads Nashville to playoffs, grateful for ‘how sacrificial God’s love is’
Walker Zimmerman leans on faith as he leads Nashville SC, USMNT