Before the U.S. Men's National Team took on Trinidad & Tobago in the first of two vital matches in Austin, Texas on Thursday, Nov. 16 that will determine its fate in the Concacaf Nations League and 2024 Copa America, Paul Caligiuri met the squad.
He could have talked about what it means to wear the crest.
He could have brought up his experience in two World Cups and with the USMNT.
And yes, he talked about The Goal, considered by many fans and media as "The Shot Heard Around the World." After all, that goal is a quintessential moment in U.S. Soccer history.
The Goal boosted the USA to a 1-0 triumph over Trinidad & Tobago in the final World Cup qualifier on Nov. 19, 1989, and propelled the team into the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy, snapping a 40-year drought. The second game of the series will be played at Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain, Trinidad on Monday, Nov. 20, one day after the anniversary.
The 1989 win also saved the U.S. from the embarrassment of not booking at spot at Italia '90, after being awarded the 1994 FIFA World Cup a year prior.
Caligiuri, who would rather talk about the win, than his goal, has been gratified to see what has grown from the game.
"I get it that it gave us a lifeline and gave us the boost that we needed," he said in a recent interview.
"The one question I get the most, 'Had you not scored that goal, had we not won that game, where would soccer be like today?' "
Caligiuri turned that question around, noting what has transpired since then.
"Soccer today is amazing in the United States," he said. "We're going to host our second World Cup. We're in a situation where established professional league players are playing abroad. So many wonderful things are happening. Academies and leagues and multiple youth leagues. It just keeps growing and going and going.
"We brought the world to America, including big international clubs and countries that come play in the United States. We are a soccer nation. It reflects how many fans come out to support the Men's and Women's Nationals Teams. That reflects how packed the stadiums are in Major League Soccer, but it also reflects on when the world comes to us and plays exhibition matches. These crowds are 80,000 people."
Caligiuri doesn't wear The Goal on his sleeve. But he understood his place and legacy in U.S. Soccer, though he noted that he had scored only five goals in 110 international appearances.
While still starring at UCLA, Caligiuri made his USMNT debut as a 20-year-old, starting in a 3-1 friendly win over El Salvador in Los Angeles on Oct. 9, 1984.
Seven months later on May 19, 1985, he scored his first international goal against Trinidad in a 1-0 win in a FIFA World Cup qualifier at El Camino College in Torrance, Calif., 44 miles from his home. Playing as a defender, Caligiuri headed home a Perry Van der Beck cross on a sequence that began off a corner kick, past goalkeeper Michael Maurice in the 15th minute.
"My dad has a picture from the stands where you have to go get it develop that K-Mart back in the day,” Caligiuri said. “It's so grainy. He actually captured the moment. I'm up heading the ball and you could see it go back post."
Little did Caligiuri realize then he would have Maurice taking the ball out of the back of the net one more time.
On May 31, 1985, Caliguri and his USA teammates were eliminated from contention in a 1-0 loss to Costa Rica in the semifinal round at the same venue, exactly a year to the day that Mexico '86 kicked off.
It was a different era in U.S. Soccer. Game promoters staged a halftime show that featured Costa Rican folk dances.
"My sister ran onto the field, grabbed an American flag and ran around because she was so enthralled about the fact that this game is the United States, and why they do they have a Costa Rican celebration," Caligiuri said. "I was embarrassed because when I came out the locker room, I heard about that."
To say the defeat was devastating to the Americans would be an understatement. The U.S. Soccer Federations’ proposal to host the 1986 competition after Colombia pulled out was rejected by FIFA in 1983 and the North American Soccer League went belly-up after the 1984 season.
Caligiuri returned to UCLA, captaining the Bruins to the 1985 NCAA Division I, under the direction of the late coach, Sigi Schmid.
Under new USMNT head coach Bob Gansler and a young squad, the U.S. took another shot at reaching soccer's promised land. A stress fracture kept Caligiuri sidelined for several qualifiers before returning for a scoreless draw against El Salvador in St. Louis on Nov. 5, 1989. He never got off the bench.
"I was healthy, but Gansler does not put me in the starting lineup and doesn't put me on the field," Caligiuri said. "My blood is just fuming because I'd have no control over the outcome."
During a training camp, Caligiuri was used on defense. When Gansler announced his lineup for the Trinidad match, Caligiuri was slotted in at defensive midfielder in a stunning move. He replaced regular John Stollmeyer, whose family had strong ties to the Caribbean Island.
"In those three preparation games, all I did was play right back," Caligiuri said. "All of a sudden, we're in Trinidad, 'This is your assignment. This is where you're going to play.’ Zero preparation.”
It turned out to be “a genius move,” Caligiuri said.
“Had I not been in the midfield, I would have never had that opportunity to take the shot.”
Gansler had instructed Caligiuri not to go forward and attack. But sometimes circumstances call for a player to rise to the occasion when it is unexpected.
Hasely Crawford Stadium was a sea of red that Sunday afternoon as the Soca Warriors’ enthusiastic supporters hoped that their heroes would reach the FIFA World Cup for the first time.
With the game a third over, Caligiuri had an opportunity to attempt a shot that he had been working on his since he was 10 years old on the driveway of his family's Diamond Bar, Calif. home, much to the detriment of the stucco over the garage.
"How can I hit the garage door on a fly?" he said. "As I got further and further back, I got to the end of the driveway and hit the garage on the fly from the street right. We lived on a cul de sac, so there wasn't a busy street. Eventually I was on the other side of the street in the neighbor's driveway, striking the ball with my left foot or foot and trying to hit the garage on the fly.
"I broke the stucco, dead smack in the middle above the garage. My dad had to replaster it."
A player never knows when he needs to use a particular shot from their repertoire.
In the 31st minute on Nov. 19, 1989, Caligiuri was present with that opportunity. Tab Ramos slipped him the ball, which bounced off his chest. The midfielder gathered it in, made a move to get around a defender and launched an arcing, 25-yard shot with his left foot toward the upper right corner. Maurice couldn't reach it and the USA had a 1-0 lead.
"These days guys have planned out celebrations," he said. "I didn't have a celly. I just raised my arms and ran towards the corner of the box, then I just slid because I didn't know what to do."
His teammates did, mobbing Caligiuri.
The Americans survived and made history with a 1-0 triumph.
"The game will have a tremendous impact on the sport in the United States," Caligiuri said in a locker room that was part New Year's Eve and part Mardi Gras. "It was the single most important game we ever won. It proves to the rest of the world we can play, and we can qualify. We all knew what on the line for the future of soccer in the United States."
Caligiuri participated in two FIFA World Cups - in 1990 and 1994. He made more history at Italia '90, becoming the first American to score at World Cup since John Souza tallied in a 5-2 loss to Chile in Recife, Brazil on July 2, 1950. Playing right back, Caligiuri made history again in the 61st minute in a 5-1 defeat to Czechoslovakia on June 10, 1990. With the USA facing a 3-0 deficit and playing a man down, Caligiuri raced down the right wing, he eluded defenders and pulled goalkeeper Jan Stejskal out of the net to score from 12 yards.
"Everyone's dream is playing in a World Cup. Of course, it's a double bonus if you could score in a World Cup," he said.
The USMNT lost all three group stage matches, but the Italia '90 was an invaluable experience. Caligiuri continued his career in Germany with SV Meppen, Hansa Rostock and SC Freiburg. He also played for the Columbus Crew and the LA Galaxy in MLS from 1996-2001 before retiring. Caligiuri was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2004.
Now 59, Caligiuri still has passion for and is involved in the game, coaching Orange County FC in the United Premier Soccer League.When Caligiuri talked to the current generation in Austin this week, he spoke of the passion and grit that he and his teammates displayed to make some history. He also remind this generation of players that they can make some history of their own as well, whether it be in the Concacaf Nations League, Copa America or beyond.