A shot heard around the world
THE goal, when it came, was right out of the blue. A gift of the soccer gods.
Paul Caligiuri was given the credit, of course, since it was his left foot that steered the ball on its curious and altogether lethal trajectory.
First, it seemed likely that the shot would sail high above the crossbar. Then the ball dipped and, at the last moment, curved wickedly.
Wickedly for poor Michael Maurice. The Trinidad & Tobago goalkeeper flung himself desperately to his left, both arms flailing in an effort to claw the ball out of the air.
It was too late!
The ball already was over the line when it hit the ground and spun into the netting.
It was a moment or two before anyone reacted, so unexpected was the event. After all the United States was not supposed to score. It certainly had shown no likelihood of doing so in most of its previous World Cup qualifying matches.
But there was Argentine referee Juan Loustau pointing to the center circle. There were the U.S. players happily piling on top of Caligiuri.
There were the stunned T&T defenders shaking their heads in disbelief. In the packed National Stadium in Port of Spain, Trinidad on Sunday November 19th 1989, almost precisely at the stroke of 4pm, Paul Caligiuri fired a shot — the cliche is unavoidable — heard around the world.
In one moment of brilliant inspiration he succeeded where four decades of American players had failed before him he put the United States into the World Cup.
Forty years of frustration ended with one goal, but it came a full hour before the final whistle. A nail-biting 60 minutes in which dreams were born and dreams died.
All T&T needed was a single point
THE excitement had been building with each passing day. Tension is the wrong word to use. It was Winner's Week in Trinidad & Tobago, and the islanders were in a festive mood.
All week long the party had been growing livelier. By Friday, Red Day, as it was known, all of Port of Spain had caught the spirit. Everyone was supposed to sport something red and everyone did. Hats, scarves, T-shirts, you name it. Even the newspaper headlines were in red. Music filled the air, car horns blared, there was dancing in the streets.
In short, a soccer carnival had begun, one that would continue through to Sunday afternoon, when the National Stadium itself was awash with red.
All T&T needed was a single point. Just a tie and the Islanders would be on their way to Italy 90. Travel agencies were already selling tour packages to the World Cup.
The team had not yet lost at home. How could it possibly fail now? Especially to the U.S. which had struggled in its most recent games and which had to win or be eliminated.
Everald (Gaily) Cummings, coach of the Strike Squad as the T&T team was nicknamed, was confident. He had not gone so far as to predict victory, but he was not expecting to lose.
"A victory would be good, but we are aiming to qualify. We cannot afford to take chances and cannot become complacent at this stage... The team knows the importance of producing their best and I feel confident that we will achieve our aim."
The local newspapers were less cautious. 'Italy Her We Come!' screamed the headline in the Sunday Express on the morning of the match. 'Destination Italy' echoed the Sunday Guardian.
In addition to any number of stories about the upcoming match, each newspaper also carried a soccer editorial.
"Never before", proclaimed the Guardian, "has there been such an overwhelming, uninhibited display of patriotism and national pride as for our beloved Strike Squad, the sons of the soil who are set to add a new aspect to our claim to fame: 'Home of the steelband, calypso, limbo and the 1990 World Cup football finalists. "...
"A native of the northern Italian city of Genoa became the first European to visit these shores. Now, 491 years later, Trinidad & Tobago's footballers are set to break new ground and return the favor by visiting the homeland of Christopher Columbus as the smallest nation to reach the World Cup football finals. Italy beckons and our destiny is in our hands."
The editorial in the Express was somewhat more blunt: "As we welcome the American footballers to Trinidad & Tobago, we realize, as their Ambassador Charles Gargano may have suggested, that it is only a football match and that when the final whistle blows, we will each return to deeper, more worrisome issues: drugs, unemployment, the IMF, the Japanese threat of world trade domination and the prospect of a reunified Germany.
"But the truth is, we intend to beat the hell out of the USA at the National Stadium today."
The tone of the game was set right from the start. Gone was the tentative approach that had plagued the U.S. team throughout its qualifying campaign. Gone was the players' reluctance to commit themselves on offense.
The fear of losing had been replaced by the necessity of winning. The Americans attacked from the opening minute.
A mistake by T&T defender and captain Clayton Morris almost gave Peter Vermes a chance at a shot on goal. Paul Krumpe's overlapping run down the right wing looked promising. John Harkes blasted a shot over the crossbar.
The first 15 minutes belonged to the United States. But then things changed.
Trinidad & Tobago forward Leonson Lewis discovered that he could outsprint any U.S. player on the left flank. Twice he burned defender Steve Trittschuh and twice the Americans got lucky.
The first time Lewis broke through, his crossing pass to Philbert Jones was cut out by john Doyle, who turned it away for a corner kick. The second time, goalkeeper Tony Meola had to smother the pass himself to prevent it reaching the onrushing Jones.
There was more to come.
A mistake by Krumpe let Lewis through again, but the speedster pushed the ball too far ahead of him and it went out of play. Brian Williams. his dreadlocks flowing down his back, set Jones free on the right with an excellent through ball, but Jones' cross into the middle was cut out by Mike Windischmann.
It happened again, but this time Jones' cross went straight to Meola.
Then came a new variation. Dwight Yorke, the talented 18-year-old already signed by England's Aston Villa, did a dance with the ball on the right, held off two U.S. defenders and presented a perfectly timed pass to the dangerous Russell Latapy.
With defenders rushing to close in on him, Latapy hesitated a moment too long in taking his shot. Perhaps he was distracted by the referee, furiously back-pedaling to get out of the way. In either event, Latapy's shot curled high, just above the right post.
The pattern was becoming clear. It was Trinidad & Tobago that now was applying the pressure, the U.S. players having been forced back on defense.
Strangely, almost bizarrely, there was no outcry.
Suddenly, there was an incident that might have changed the course of the match and the future of soccer in America.
Jones trapped a pass with his chest and turned toward the goal, all in one fluid movement. His action cut Doyle out of the play and left him a step behind. Jones advanced into the penalty area with only Meola to beat. Doyle thrust out a leg at full stretch in an effort to poke the ball away. Jones tumbled over it and went sprawling.
Strangely, almost bizarrely, there was no outcry. Referee Loustau's whistle did not sound. There was no appeal from the T&T players. Even the crowd reaction was muted. Obviously, there was no penalty. But it was a close call.
The second 15 minutes belonged to Trinidad & Tobago.
Then came Caligiuri's moment in the Caribbean sun.
THIS was a goal that will be talked about whenever the great moments in American soccer are mentioned. It is likely to have even more lasting impact than Joe Gaetjens' game-winner against England at Belo Horizonte, Brazil in 1950, the last year that the U.S. appeared in the World Cup.
As the years roll on, the description is likely to change. More drama will be added. More skill will be assigned to the build-up and execution. Myth and legend will come into play.
Here, for the record, is what really happened: The U.S. was awarded a throw-in on the left sideline, perhaps 10 yards or more inside the T&T half of the field. Tab Ramos took the throw and fed Brian Bliss who, under slight pressure, headed the ball back to Ramos.
Ramos, whose creative role in midfield was crucial to the U.S. effort, spotted Caligiuri in open space and sent a square pass to him some 35 to 40 yards from the goal. Caligiuri controlled the ball, wrong-footed the player who rushed in to challenge him, then chipped the ball past him with his right foot and set of in pursuit. He took four, maybe five strides and the ball bounced perfectly for him.
About 25 yards out and perhaps halfway between the sideline and the middle of the field, Caligiuri met the ball perfectly with his left foot.
Watch it in slow motion: The ball rises sharply, soars over the heads and well out of the reach of the five T&T players between it and the net. Then it begins to dip, equally sharply and to curl away to the right. The luckless Maurice, staring up into the sun and perhaps momentarily blinded by it, reacts too late.
His despairing dive accomplishes nothing. The ball is in the net. Sixty minutes later, the United States is in the World Cup. A brilliant goal in any circumstance, a world-class goal in this situation and in this match.
A goal from out of the blue Caribbean sky, with help from the gold Caribbean sun. Blue and gold. UCLA's colors. Paul Caligiuri's colors.
"Today was our destiny. our dream", he said in the champagne-soaked U.S. locker room after the Americans had survived a series of second-half scares.
"What we wanted to do was take all the chances that we could today, whenever we had the ball. I didn't think about it. I didn't hesitate."
Finally, an odd postscript for trivia buffs.
This was only the second goal Paul Caligiuri has scored in five years and 24 games of playing for the United States. The previous one came four and a half years to the day earlier, in a World Cup qualifying match on May 19th, 1985.
Against Trinidad & Tobago. Against Maurice. Lightning does strike twice.
In the land of calypso soccer, Caligiuri saved the last dance for the United States.