FORT MYERS, Fla. — Eight years after its last appearance in the World Cup, the U.S. men's soccer team faced a task on Tuesday afternoon in the simplest terms of sport.
Win or go home.
Christian Pulisic's goal, crashing towards the net, in the 38th minute off Sergino Dest's pass lifted the United States to a 1-0 victory over Iran in the third and final game of the group stage. England's 3-0 win over Wales sent both the U.S. and England out of the group to the round of 16, also known as the knockout stage.
Whether watching at home or at a Southwest Florida bar, with strangers who became new friends, the victory also renewed another run of World Cup momentum for the USMNT.
"I feel like there's been a surge in our country, in interest in soccer than there ever has been and that's exciting for me," said Alex Fasulo, after watching the U.S. victory at The Lucky Screw in downtown Fort Myers on Tuesday. "I feel it's on the up-and-coming and this will only help it."
The "renewed" part comes in as the U.S. didn't advance past the qualifying stage to make the 2018 World Cup. The 2014 squad did make the knocked out, only to lose to Belgium, 2-1, in the Round of 16.
Spencer Cordell, who also coaches his 11-year-old daughter's soccer team, noted the energy and connection that younger players can take from the win.
"I said (to the parents), 'hey, tape it, let these kids have a chance to see it because this is what we're learning here and how it gets applied," said Cordell. "Now you see the U.S. is set to be on the world stage and compete with the best in the world."
As U.S. men's national team supporters celebrate Tuesday's tense win, a global focus on the opponent, Iran, has also loomed at the World Cup in Qatar.
FOX 4 has spent days reaching out to the Iranian-American community here in Southwest Florida, through social media faces. People offered us gratitude for our inquiries and questions about how people of Iranian heritage feel about the protests and unrest in that nation, the most intense since the 1979 revolution that led to decades of acrimony between Iran and the United States.
The Iran national team's players did not sing the national anthem during Iran's group stage opening loss to England on November 21. This led a deeper examination of the situation in Iran, as the United Nations is formally investigating claims of human rights abuse. CNN reported, on Monday, that Iran's government contacted team members about their conduct before Tuesday's game against the United States.
Out of concern for family members or loved ones still in Iran, the people we spoke with didn't want to go on-camera or give their names. Of course, we respected that. However, one detailed e-mail exchange with a man from Fort Lauderdale offered this perspective.
"This may seem very strange to you or your readers," the man wrote. "Many Iranians, outside of Iran, think the team is not representative of Iranian people. They are representative of a brutal regime. Therefore, they prefer the U.S. wins the game with Iran. This is the same inside Iran. They also would like (to see) the Iranian team lose. This is because, when the Iranian team won (Friday's game) with Wales, they were dancing and partying in the streets of Iran (near) the police and other groups who kill and beat people, not by regular Iranians."