On November 19, 1989, Paul Caligiuri was keeping track of the time left in the game against Trinidad and Tobago after scoring in the 30th minute. Each time the clocked counted down one minute, the United States was one minute closer to attending the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy, the first World Cup in 40 years for the American squad.
A different U.S. team than the one Caligiuri was on will be starting a similar countdown in that same city on Feb. 9, working their way towards a fifth consecutive World Cup.
Just over 15 years later, Coach Caligiuri, head of the men’s and women’s soccer programs at California Polytechnic University at Pomona, is keeping track of a lot more than game-time, although he certainly hasn’t been counting the years.
“When you asked me the question, I almost freaked,” said Caligiuri about the 15 years that have passed since ‘the goal heard around the world.’ “It’s been a long time but it seems like yesterday. I can literally still see the play and still feel the moment. I’m fortunate enough to still keep in touch with the guys on that team on a regular basis. It’s been a fun ride.”
These days, Caligiuri isn’t as focused on his own goals as much as those of the 53 men’s and women’s soccer players at Cal Poly Pomona, where he has coached both programs for three years. Since his now famous goal in 1989 led the U.S. into Italia ‘90, opening the floodgates for the development of the sport in the United States, Caligiuri’s role has changed from imposing defender to coach.
After his third season as coach of Division II school Cal Poly Pomona, Caligiuri has the chance to teach another generation of players. Players who may be too young to remember watching his famous goal, but who have certainly been influenced by it. He has also had a chance to learn from his job, everything from how to budget for two programs, schedule games and make travel arrangements, to how to control his emotions going from one practice or game with guys to another one with girls. He has also mastered the art of tracking players’ grades and make sure the team is bonding well and playing well.
“When you’re dealing with two programs, it’s really challenging,” Caligiuri said. “Time management has been the biggest area of challenge to maximize in providing the best quality to the student athletes.”
Time management during the season includes showing up to work at 9 a.m. after dropping his two daughters, Ashley and Kayley, off at school, preparing for the day’s practices and upcoming games, arranging travel, actually going to the two teams’ practices and then going home to his daughters. It also includes double headers at 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on game days as well as time he sets aside to make himself available to whoever would like to learn a little bit from his experience.
“I played youth soccer here and in Germany (and) professionally here and in Germany,” Caligiuri said. “I spent 15 years in the national team program, and I like people to know that I am accessible. The world of soccer is small and we’re all very much in tune with what’s going on. As part of the soccer family, I’m here to help in any way I can.”
The past three seasons have been challenging, but rewarding as well. Caligiuri’s women’s team is an Academic All-American and went from having the eighth highest grade point average among Pomona athletics to having the highest. The men’s team is ranked third among Cal Poly Pomona Men’s athletics, one thousandth of a point behind the second place team. Both teams boast GPAs over 3.0. There’s also the personal growth he has experienced.
“I think it is (rewarding), particularly in the areas I’ve had to improve on,” Caligiuri said. “It’s a matter of enjoying learning and I’ve enjoyed the process. I have to hire assistant coaches and graduate assistants. There’s a lot of delegating and I’ve learned a lot of those professional skills I didn’t need as a soccer player. Now I feel I’m more rounded and capable of running a corporation if I had to. If I was ever to go to a different level or stage in my career, I’d be up for the challenge.”
Caligiuri, who played for 15 years with the U.S. Men’s National Team, as well as playing professionally in Germany and in the U.S., was inducted into the Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, N.Y. last summer, along with Michelle Akers and Eric Wynalda. Some would argue that Caligiuri’s goal launched the rebirth of American soccer. It sent the U.S. to its first World Cup in 40 years, giving a number of young players valuable experience for the 1994 World Cup at home in the U.S. as well.
After 1994 came the 1996 launch of Major League Soccer, a domestic league that has showcased the likes of Brian McBride, Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley and Ed Johnson, and helped many of them move on to Europe. Others, such as Claudio Reyna and Steve Cherundolo, established themselves overseas, where Caligiuri was the first American-born player to play in the German Bundesliga. Now, well more than 100 American players earn their keep among the different ranks in countries such as England, Germany, Holland, France and Norway.
But the floodgates didn’t just open for the players. Caligiuri’s goal had an impact on soccer fans in the U.S. as well. According to Caligiuri, today there is a growing fan base and a lot more games available on TV due to changes in how the sport is perceived in the U.S. since 1990, after four consecutive World Cup appearances. More people are watching, more people are playing and more people in general have accepted the sport as “American” versus “European” or “South-of-the-Border.”
While some credit those changes to the growth of the sport in general, there are those who can count back 15 years to one particular goal and one particular win.
“The relevance of that victory (against Trinidad and Tobago) seems to grow every day,” said Caligiuri, who is frequently asked about his Nov. 19, 1989 goal. “It’s kind of cool to leave my imprint.”