Today marks 25 years since the U.S. Men’s National Team beat Trinidad and Tobago 1-0 in Port of Spain to qualify for the 1990 World Cup. That’s 25 years since Paul Caligiuri’s famous Shot Heard ‘Round the World., 25 years since the beginning of the modern era of American soccer. Before that famous game on Nov. 19, 1989, the U.S. hadn’t been to a World Cup since 1950. Now the U.S. expects to be there, every time.
Browsing the Internet today, you’ll see video of Caliguiris’ famous strike from distance and quotes from the men involved. But historic soccer moments often lose a little something when stripped of their context. That’s why Paste Soccer contributor Bill Reno has gone one step beyond, reinserting that context—including an interview with Trinidad and Tobago’s keeper that day, Michael Maurice— so you can relive maybe the most momentous day in the history of American soccer.
So flip your calendars all the way back to 1989, and prepare to relive Trinidad and Tobago vs. the U.S. Men’s National team, complete with pre-match notes, video of the entire game as experienced on television in 1989 (including 15 in-game) commercials, and post-match quotes.
Pre-match drama—8 things you need to know for today’s big game
1. Winner takes all
Two teams from the CONCACAF region are heading to the World Cup. One of those teams was going to be Costa Rica, who were top of the CONCACAF Championship table. Whoever won the game between Trinidad and Tobago and the USA advanced to the World Cup. Loser would spend the summer of 1990 doing something else.
Both teams were sitting at nine points with a +2 goal differential. Trinidad and Tobago had seven goals for, one more than USA, so a tie would not be good enough for USA. The US had to win.
Lastly, America had not qualified for a World Cup since 1950. America didn’t advance to the second round in the 1986 qualification and were several games away from making the 1986 World Cup. A $1.4 million payout awaited the winner of the game, and that was $1.4 million the U.S. Soccer federation could certainly use.
2. Mexico was banned from qualifying
Mexico had been banned from the 1990 World Cup for playing four overage players in attempt to qualify for the Saudi Arabia 1989 U20 World Cup. Apparently word got out when a Mexican journalist simply looked at a yearbook (published by the Mexican Football Federation) and noticed that some players were too old to play and wrote an article about. Had Mexico not shot themselves in the foot, this game could have been meaningless.
3. American soccer’s reputation and the 1994 World Cup
USA had been awarded the 1994 World Cup on July 4th, 1988 with a narrow 10-7 vote over Brazil. (Morocco also received two votes.) Mexico had won the bid for the 1986 World Cup the same year the NASL had collapsed. While it was not unheard of a host team not previously qualifying for a World Cup (most recently Mexico was awarded the 1986 World Cup after failing to qualify in ‘82) but some thought it would have been an “insult and an embarrassment of deep proportions for the US to fail to qualify,” especially for a nation that deeply wanted to be respected on the international scene.
4. Dropped games
The US had tied Trinidad and Tobago five months earlier, a 1-1 game California. It was very nearly a 1-0 win, but the US gave up an 88th-minute goal off a defensive collapse. Goalkeeper David Vanole was so upset by the goal that after he dove for the ball, he pounced back up, threw his hands over his face, then fell back to the Earth again when he saw it roll into the net.
Perhaps the team was hampered by the fact that Murdock Stadium had been vandalized was vandalized when someone drove their car around the field the night before the game.
US also tied El Salvador two weeks earlier in St. Louis 0-0, a result which worried the press. The US dominated the game and were frantically sending ball after ball into the box but couldn’t connect for a goal. Both these games were on home soil and games where they should have come away with a win.
5. No professional American league
Of the starters, the only professional players were Paul Caliguri and Peter Vermes—the rest were college/semi-pro players. The year 1989 was after the collapse of the NASL but seven years before the start of MLS. The average age of the US’s starters was 23.5.
6. Trinidad and Tobago were actually a very good team
This was one of the best Trinidad and Tobago teams they had ever fielded and even though America was 6-1-0 (w-t-l) against them all time, the national government had already declared the following day to be a national holiday because they expected their team to win. Three and a half hours before the game, officials had to stop letting people in because the stadium was already at full capacity. The entire nation was painted red in support for their team and shots of the crowd simply featured a giant red block.
The country was also beginning to emerge from an economic depression and everybody had rallied around the team as a kind of a symptom of recovery so there was emotion packed into these expectations. Phil Hersh took note of the federation’s unstableness at the time.
7. The Americans had not been good travelers
The US hadn’t won an away qualifier in over 21 years and hadn’t scored a goal in the last two games coming into Nov. 19.
8. Trinidad and Tobago management
Coach Gally Cummings claimed to have found a microphone taped under their bench during the teams’ last encounter. He also laughed off the notion that Trinidadian officials bribed other CONCACAF opponents to play harder against the US. “Can you imagine the nonsense, to bribe a team to do what they’re supposed to do anyway?”
Back in the present, Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Michael Maurice spoke to me about some forgotten pre-game aspects.
“We had a team psychologist. It was a first time ever a football team from Trinidad and Tobago had a team psychologist. It was different but it worked. Each player had a one-on-one session with the team psychologist. She talked about the spiritual and off-the-field aspect of the game. So going into the US game, in the US, we had the affirmation to get us going as a group. And it worked! It helped us a lot! Going into the game back home, they removed the team psychologist before the game against the US. And some of us felt a little lost, not physically, just mentally. And I think, mentally, that made a difference. A lot of people don’t talk about that but that psychologist had a great impact on every single player.
It’s a small country in one of the biggest stages of their lives. The coaches and management didn’t handle it properly. We were staying about an hour and a half from the game venue. As the game got closer, the federation requested we stay closer in a hotel but the management said they wanted to do everything the same that they did all the time. Meaning, we reached this stage doing this and they wanted to continue doing the same thing. They didn’t want to change from what was successful.
We were on our way up from deep south and we would normally stop at a church and say a little prayer before we went to the game. On that day, on that day, when we reached the road going to the church there were people all over the road. We told the manager ‘Don’t stop. Let’s go ahead.’ But they were so stuck in their ways they didn’t want to change from the routine. So we had to push people out of the way to go into the church and to come back out. On the way, some people actually walked into the highway and stopped the bus because there were so many people there. They did that! There was more than one stop up to get to the game. When we reached the stadium they wouldn’t let the players’ cars go in the stadium. So we had this army of people and we had to actually push our way into the stadium.
There were a lot of things that could have been done differently.”
Read on to meet the US Men’s National Team Starting XI …