Below is the latest in an ongoing series of weekly World Cup updates coming to you every Wednesday from the U.S. Soccer Communications Center. As a build-up to the 2002 FIFA World Cup, the forthcoming articles are being presented to educate and entertain the U.S. Soccer Family about the great worldwide history of the tournament and U.S. Soccer as the U.S. Men's National Team prepares for the 2002 event in Korea/Japan this June.
THE STREAK IS OVER …
Paul Caligiuri’s “Shot Heard Around the World” Ends 40-Year World Cup Drought for U.S.
The year was 1989. It began on the heels of the momentous announcement that would bring the World Cup to the United States for the first time, and ended with one of the most important games in U.S. Soccer history. A game that was framed by the words from its main protagonist, Paul Caligiuri, moments after its conclusion, “This game will have a tremendous impact on the sport in the United States.”
Have truer words ever been spoken?
The historic momentum for that year began on July 4, 1988 when the United States won the right to stage the 1994 FIFA World Cup. The decision provided U.S. Soccer with an unprecedented opportunity to promote soccer in the United States, but without a spot in the 1990 World Cup, there is no telling how that momentum might have played out.
Without a doubt, qualifying for 1990 was essential for the United States, if for no other reason than to not be known as “the country that ended their nearly half-century World Cup exile by hosting the tournament.” On the other side of the spectrum there was the very real possibility that the 1994 World Cup might have been pulled out of the U.S. had the team not succeeded in qualifying for the 1990 World Cup.
“People can argue all they want,” said U.S. goalkeeper Tony Meola, who helped the U.S. secure the victories necessary to advance to Italy, “but there would be no World Cup here, and no professional league, had we not won in Trinidad.”
And win they did. The USA’s World Cup exile would end in Port of Spain, Trinidad on November 19, 1989, in a match played in stifling heat in front of ravenous, capacity crowd of more than 30,000 fans decked out in a sea of red.
The U.S. line-up for the game reads like a “Who’s Who” from the rebirth of U.S. Soccer: Tab Ramos, John Harkes, Tony Meola, Peter Vermes, and, of course, Caliguiri. The names would reverberate throughout U.S. Soccer in the 1990s through three World Cups and the birth of Major League Soccer.
And Caligiuri’s goal would be the note that sounded that reverberation. Coming just past the mid-way point of the first half, the surprising tally was struck with equal parts pace and opportunity.
“I saw I had space ahead of me, but then two defenders converged on me,” said Caligiuri, remembering the strike. “I faked with my right foot and kicked it with my left over the goalkeeper’s head to the far post. Maybe it caught him by surprise. Maybe it was luck.”
And maybe it was the most indelible moment in the history of the U.S. Men’s National Team?
“I think when you look at a goal, it’s selfish to say ‘I got the goal. I got us into the World Cup,’” said Caligiuri a couple of years after the game. “Sure, it was an important goal, but it was a team effort. What I most remember about that game – it’s not just the shot, not just the goal – it was the whole entire second half. I watched players like Tony Meola play out of his mind. I had never seen Tony play at that level before. I saw John Harkes rise to the occasion. I saw Tab Ramos hold the ball like it was glued to his foot. It was exciting as I look back at all those little things and it’s something we’re going to share for a lifetime.”
The U.S. would go on to lose all three games at Italia ’90, but it would not matter. The first steps toward international soccer glory for the U.S. Men had been taken. Steps that will continue this summer in Korea as the U.S. Men play in their fourth straight World Cup.