1-0 Victory Over Trinidad and Tobago Puts U.S. in World Cup for First Time Since 1950

Ronald Blum
Date Published: 
Casa Grande Dispatch

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (AP) -

Everything was against them. They were playing 2,000 miles from home in front of 35,000 frenzied fans. They needed a victory, nothing less. They hadn't scored in 208 minutes. They hadn't won a road game of this magnitude since 1968.

No way, almost everybody said. Trinidad and Tobago was going through, riding a red sea of fans all the way to Italy.

Well, they were all wrong.

Paul Caligiuri, a 25-year-old out of UCLA with one goal in 23 previous international games, scored in the 30th minute Sunday. The United States' 1-0 victory advanced the American to their first World Cup game in 40 years.

The United States is going to Italy, and the players were stunned.

"Today was our destiny, our dream," Caligiuri said.

"It hasn't sunk in yet," said goalkeeper Tony Meola, who got his fourth straight shutout. "Maybe it will in a couple of hours."

The players jumped up and down, poured champagne over each other and sang. They had felt a burden not only of winning the game, but of trying to establish the world's sport in the United States.

"We feel the pressure and the monkey are off our back," defender Brian Bliss said.

For two weeks, Trinidad had built up the match, turning the rainy season into a mini-Carnaval. Everyone on the island seemed to be wearing red, the team color. Calypso bands wrote songs about the players. All through town, people were yelling, "We Going" and "We Italy Bound."

Fans arrived at National Stadium 5 1/2 hours before the game. It was filled three hours before the game as fans without tickets and with counterfeits sneaked in. Troops turned away many people, some of whom had tickets.

The fans turned the ballpark into a festive gathering as they sang calypso and chanted to the sound of steel drums for hours before the match. But in the biggest game of their lives, the Trinidad players came out flat.

"I told the players before the game, 'You think you have pressure? They have pressure as well," U.S. coach Bob Gansler said. "They had reserved their tickets to Italy, if not airplane tickets, then in other ways. Do not forget that though we have not been down the road before, the Trinidad team also has not been down the road before. Sometimes that Adam's apple rises. The pregame pressure and hype, whether real or forced, on this island had to affect the players as well."

One hour after the game, the Trinidad players still were barricaded in their locker room, separated from reporters by security and Defense Forces troops. The U.S. players were singing and dancing out of the stadium.

"This is the greatest thing in the world, the World Cup," American captain Mike Windischmann said. "It's bigger than the Super Bowl or the World Series."

It isn't to most people in the United States. But it is to the players and the rest of the world.

"Everything you work for as a child and in your youth and adulthood was on the line in this game," said Caligiuri, a 25-year-old from Diamond Bar, Calif. Caligiuri was the captain of the UCLA team that won the 1985 NCAA title. But lately, he's had problems. His old club, SV Meppen of the West German second division, refused to release him for the first three World Cup qualifiers this year. He played the second half of the fourth, then missed the next three with a leg injury.

On Sunday, he erased all the bad times. Tab Ramos made a throw-in that Bliss picked up just past midfield. He carried it down the left side and passed to Caligiuri, just to the left of the middle, almost 10 yards outside the penalty area.

"I faked the shot with my right foot and pushed it left." Caligiuri said. "I don't think he expected me to shoot from such a position."

His curving, dipping shot went into the upper right corner. Michael Maurice, the Trinidad goalkeeper, was in the middle of the net and had no chance to stop it.

"What we wanted to do was take all the chances we could today, whenever we had the ball," Caligiuri said. "I didn't think about it. I didn't hesitate."

Caligiuri's only previous international goal was in a World Cup qualifer against Trinidad on May 19, 1985, at Torrance, Calif. It also was against Maurice.

After the goal, the U.S. players showed more confidence and played their most open, entertaining game in months. Trinidad, playing a fast-break style similar to Nevada-Las Vegas basketball, had its best chances on counterattacks by Leonson Lewis and Philbert Jones.

Meola, a sophomore at Virginia who missed the Cavaliers' 4-1 NCAA tournament victory over Philadelphia Textile on Sunday, was aggressive and got to every cross.

Gansler said he had been telling his team not to be so conservative.

"I said before the game to the players, 'Gentlemen, your feet are going to carry you faster and faster than they ever did before,'" Gansler said. "'Your heart will carry you to things you never did before. But be sure your mind is there to guide your feet and your heart.'"

The draw for the World Cup will be Dec. 12 at Rome. The United States, which played in the 1930, 1934 and 1950 World Cups, will play three games in the first round. The Americans were the 24th and final team to qualify. Cameroon advanced earlier Sunday with a 1-0 victory over Tunisia.