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Jill Ellis lauds Christian Pulisic, U.S. for ‘gutsy’ World Cup breakthrough

Jill Ellis, local expert on global soccer, said “brave” three times to describe Christian Pulisic’s goal Tuesday, a high-speed effort that ultimately kept the United States alive in the World Cup.

“He threw his life and limb on the line and muscled it across the line,” Ellis said. “The collision was inevitable. He took the risk and put it away well.”

Pulisic sustained an abdominal injury in colliding with Iran’s goalkeeper a moment after scoring -— but the Pennsylvanian’s goal stood for a 1-0 victory that advanced the Americans in the world’s biggest sporting event. Anything less than a victory would’ve sent them home from Qatar, where they’ll now face Netherlands in a final-16 match Saturday.

Ellis understands World Cup drama. In 2015 and 2019, she led the U.S. women to the World Cup title as head coach.

Now president of the San Diego Wave, she buzzed Tuesday after watching the American men —16th in FIFA’s rankings —outlast No. 20 Iran.

“It’s just finding a way,” she said from the Wave’s offices in Del Mar. “To get out of the group, it’s a wonderful, wonderful achievement.”

Lessons from Tuesday should aid the Americans against eight-ranked Netherlands, she said.

One, it’ll be another “win or go home” game. Two, holding the 1-0 lead meant “going from being the hunter to the hunted” with success.

U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter deployed an extra defender after his team had ruled the first half. The move succeeded, but not before Iran’s comfort level went up and anxious moments ensued.

“You walk that line as a coach between trying to protect a lead and get through, to not bunkering too much,” Ellis said. “There was a spell there where we were just absorbing a lot in the second half, and I was a little concerned. But, they raised the line of pressure. And, then, we found a way to kind of hang on.”

Pulisic scored in the 38th minute by redirecting Sergino Dest’s header with his right foot on a sprint into the goal mouth. The 24-year-old striker bore the brunt of the collision and stayed down for several minutes before walking off. He sat out the second half.

The U.S., holding on, avoided a repeat of its Cup opener in which Wales rallied to a 1-1 tie.

Next comes injury treatment for Pulisic and forward Josh Sargent — who appeared worse off than Pulisic after hyper-extending a knee — followed by Saturday’s match.

“Netherlands is just historically such a storied program,” Ellis said, referring to consecutive World Cup finals appearances in the 1970s and a third-place finish in 2014, “but, I actually like our chances after the experience we just had. We’re an athletic team. We’re a young team. But, with that youth comes hunger, and a throw-caution-to-the-wind approach.”

Ellis will be watching Tim Weah. She rates the 6-foot, Brooklyn-born forward, who scored a difficult goal Tuesday nullified by an infraction, a “very bright talent.”