DOHA, Qatar — The surprise guest waited patiently at the end of the line of well-wishers welcoming the United States team back to its hotel after their 1-0 victory over Iran early Wednesday morning.
Safely out of the rowdy fray of high-fives and powerful hugs, beaming broadly and recording the players' arrival on his phone was the man who had made the celebration possible: Christian Pulisic.
Pulisic, the scorer of the Americans' only goal in the win that sent them through to the knockout stages of the World Cup, had taken a different route home from the stadium. He had been injured while scoring the goal, which ended with his violent collision with the Iran goalkeeper, forcing him from the game at halftime and then to the hospital for tests.
The injury was described as a pelvic contusion by U.S. Soccer, which said Pulisic was listed as day to day. But it is not expected to keep him out of the Americans' next game, a round of 16 matchup against the Netherlands on Saturday, an opinion that Pulisic, at least, seems to share.
In a message sent from his hospital bed as soon as the game ended, and accompanied by a fist-pumping photo, he congratulated his teammates on their win and wrote, "I'll be ready for Saturday don't worry."
The United States plays the Netherlands in a Round of 16 match that begins at 9 a.m. Twin Cities time on Saturday.
Coach Gregg Berhalter said after the game that the team had celebrated with an absent Pulisic in a video call from the locker room. About an hour after that, they got to see him again in person.
The reunion came at the end of a boisterous guard of honor that greeted the American players when their team bus deposited them back at their hotel in the early hours of Wednesday morning: two whooping and clapping lines of fans, family members, federation and hotel staff.
Pulisic, waiting alone at the end of it, was recording it all on his cellphone. His presence, it seemed, came a surprise to at least a couple of his teammates. Forward Tim Weah, spotting his friend, threw his arms around him in a warm embrace. Defender DeAndre Yedlin pushed his face front and center in Pulisic's recording.
The goal that had made the celebration possible had come as no surprise to his coach.
"Christian makes those runs — that's what he does," Berhalter said. "That's the special quality he has. As soon as the ball is wide, he goes in with intensity to the penalty box and good things happen."
His injury? His teammates, reassured that their friend was not injured seriously, said it was just part of Pulisic's game.
"Every single player is ready to lay their body on the line to make sure this team is successful," midfielder Weston McKennie said.
Tyler Adams, the American captain, added of Pulisic more specifically: "He'd do anything for this team in order for us to win."