U.S. Advances to World Cup

George Vecsey
Date Published: 
New York Times

Defying a sea of crimson shirts and a scoreless funk of two months, the United States scored the goal it needed today to reach the main round of the World Cup of soccer.

Paul Caligiuri, who had called this ''the biggest game of our lives,'' scored in the 31st minute to allow the United States to defeat Trinidad and Tobago, 1-0, and guarantee a trip to Italy next June.

The United States last reached the final round in 1950. In this eight-game qualifying round for next summer's final round, lack of scoring punch had put the Americans in jeopardy going into today's game.

The team from the Caribbean republic that was founded in 1962 had stunned the giant nation with a goal in the 88th minute, to tie the United States, 1-1, last May. Because Trinidad and Tobago had a better scoring differential over the course of the qualifying round, it needed only a tie today to advance.

No Goals in 239 Minutes

The well-mannered young men representing the United States had not scored a goal since Sept. 17, or in 208 minutes of soccer going into today's game.

That streak was extended by 31 minutes with the home players showing their willingness to counterattack, to keep the Americans from swarming upfield.

Patience has not been an American virtue this year. Going into this game that would either take them to Italy or wreck many hopes and not a few careers, Bob Gansler, the coach, had told them: ''Simple things. Perfectly. As often as possible.'' The United States responded with a patient game. Caligiuri, a 25-year-old from U.C.L.A. who has played in West Germany for three years but has been injured for much of this year's World Cup chase, showed his professional skills in the middle of red uniforms.

'I Knew I Had the Space'

Inserted in the center of the midfield because he could handle the quickness of the home players, Caligiuri received a loose ball about 40 yards from the goal. He chipped it right-footed past one defender and then chased it down. His hard left-footed volley from 25 yards swirled hard to the right past Michael Maurice, the goalie, landing in the high right corner.

''We knew we needed a shot,'' Caligiuri said later. ''I knew I had the space. You have to take what they give you.''

By scoring, the Americans had taken the home team out of its first game plan. The home players seemed jittery until halftime and then mounted several good attacks down the left side. But the Americans showed more patience than they have all year, and Tony Meola smothered a few hard shots, particularly on screens in the 85th and 86th minutes.

''We just dropped back and I swept out all the garbage,'' said Mike Windischmann, the only survivor from the 1985 loss to Costa Rica in a game in which a tie would have taken the United States to the last qualifying round.

Red Clothes and Black Umbrellas

The goal also minimized the impact of the 30,000 fans, almost all wearing red outfits and many carrying black umbrellas, to create one of the most uniform and impressive sights possible in a soccer stadium, particularly only 100 yards from the glittering sea with green mountains jutting from the other side.

The republic of 1.2 million residents was hoping to become the smallest nation to qualify for the 1990 World Cup. It has never played in the final round, and although emotions were high, the fans were friendly.

''I told my players, 'Pretend they are cheering for you,' '' Gansler said. ''In a way, I think we took energy from the fans.''

There is no such colorful or noisy reception for soccer in the United States, which has been awarded the 1994 World Cup because of the vast corporate money that could be generated there.

Legacy of Betrayal

As host in 1994, the American team will automatically be included among the 24 finalists, but these players wanted to earn a berth on their own this year.

The road was made easier when Mexico was banned for falsifying the ages of several junior players and Canada was upset in an early round.

The American players never expected to have to come to this island needing to win to advance. The oil bust has hurt the local economy in the past few years and there has also been a legacy of soccer betrayal since 1973, when officials called back four goals to give Haiti a 2-1 victory. The sport's world governing body later banned the officials, but never ordered the game replayed.

Soccer stayed down here until two years ago when Everald (Gally) Cummings, a member of the 1973 squad and a former player in the North American Soccer League, was appointed coach.

Aggressive, Happy Style

Stressing national pride, Cummings installed an aggressive, happy style of soccer, based on the Brazilian ''calypso'' brand, always advancing the ball. He also asked a behavioral psychologist, Dr. Shirley Rudd-Ottley, to work with the team because ''I think Trinidadians function well in a family-oriented situation.''

The goal in the 88th minute in May had haunted the United States for the past six months, but today they slipped through 90 minutes untouched. The drums stopped in the stands, and the champagne began spraying in the Americans' locker room.

''I-ta-ly,'' the players chanted, along with other slogans, as the giant nation celebrated the victory over the tiny nation.

The United States will play three games in the first round next June, and will not be expected to do well, but today the players saved their program and maintained their careers by playing a rewarding and patient 90 minutes in the biggest game of their lives.