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.
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 …
GK – Tony Meola (University of Virginia, NCAA) age 20
RB- Paul Krumpe (Los Angeles Heat, Western Soccer League) 23
CB – Mike Windischmann (Albany Capitals, American Soccer League) 23 (captain)
CB – Steve Trittschuh (Tampa Bay Rowdies, American Soccer League) 24
LB – John Doyle (San Francisco Bay Blackhawks, Western Soccer League) 23
CDM – Paul Caligiuri (SV Meppen, 2. Bundesliga) 25
CDM – Brian Bliss (Albany Capitals, American Soccer League) 24
CM – John Harkes (Albany Capitals, American Soccer League) 22
CM – Tab Ramos (Miami Sharks, American Soccer League) 23
ST – Bruce Murray (Washington Stars, American Soccer League) 23
ST – Peter Vermes (FC Volendam, Eerste Divisie) 22
RB – John Stollmeyer (Arizona Condors, Western Soccer League) 27
COACH: Bob Gansler
Here’s how Gansler set his team up:
Harkes and Ramos roamed the center of the park. Ramos was more reserved in mindset and with the ample amount of space Trinidad and Tobago granted him, he had little trouble finding his teammates. He would use his burst of speed to press forward and rarely made a mistake in distribution. Harkes, on the other hand, was much too eager to play forward. While he possessed clear talent, he played many hopeful, over the top balls that didn’t find teammates. But the two were a good mix in the midfield; as one would press up, the other would drop.
Paul Caliguri typically played sweeper for the US and was noted by commentator Seamus Malin for playing in the midfield earlier in qualifying although he “didn’t look that comfortable”. Brian Bliss played more on the left side and hung back to play defense as well. Bliss had nice control but struggled to find teammates. Unlike the right side which witnessed Krumpe flying down the flank, Doyle rarely went forward. Krumpe was actually playing with a screw in his foot and in his second qualifier, went 61 minutes but started many attacks down the sideline.
Behind the midfield was captain Mike Windischmann and Steve Trittschuh. Neither were exceptionally fast albeit they were smart defenders. Windischmann displayed offensive abilities but they were limited by playing so far back and in this specific set up. If he did gain the ball, the midfield wasn’t always ready to accept a pass and start a counter, so a long clear up the field was chosen more often. Trittschuh was quiet all game until the last five minutes when the ball slipped into the 18 and, as the last defender, tipped the ball away on a lunging dive to deny a 10 yard one-on-one with Meola.
Up top, Vermes and Murray were much underutilized. Murray was decent with the ball at his feet but the majority of his receiving passes were at his head. Vermes looked better off the ball but between them two and the midfield, connectivity was not their strong point.
In goal, Tony Meola was starting just his seventh game with the US and just two days after being awarded the Hermann Trophy. Meola was the youngest player on the field by over two years but he held his own. He had only allowed two goals in the six games he had played, including going three-for-three in shutouts during WCQ.
Some players who didn’t start included Hugo Perez, who was praised as an “offensive schemer” and “arguably the most inventive and technically skilled of the American players”. But injuries plagued Perez, even all the way back to April. The most recent was a groin injury from playing with his French club, Red Star Paris.
Eric Eichmann sat in favor for Vermes and later spoke about the change in positions, “Every game I’ve played I’ve made a difference. Once I started playing in June [of 1989], I never left the lineup. But whatever reason, they decided to try other players [against Trinidad and Tobago].”
Jimmy Banks and Desmond Armstrong, who was recovering from a broken leg, were bumped by Krumpe and Doyle. The last and most notable change was Caliguri replacing John Stollmyer, who would be the only sub for the match, because Gransler thought “his quickness was better suited for [Russell] Latapy and [Dwight] Yorke.”
“We feel the pressure. We feel like we’re bearing the weight of the future of soccer in the U.S.” – Eric Eichmann, Sun Sentinel, October 1989
Read on to relive the game, as it happened, including the original ESPN broadcast …
The game was broadcast on ESPN, with J.P. Dellacamera and Seamus Malin in the commentary booth.
The game started with a high defensive line for America. They would attack down the right side with an aggressive Krumpe, often dribble into the corner and sending a looping cross in attempt to find either Murray or Vermes. The now cliché kick-it strategy was unfortunately all the US had to offer offensively. In the defensive third, America held Trinidad and Tobago to few dangerous chances in the first half but as the second half unfolded, the US sat farther and farther back. This gave Trinidad and Tobago more opportunities to get into the attacking third.
Trinidad and Tobago chose a more possessive style of play despite their obvious speed. They were reluctant to countering as quickly as America did and often looked for trailing teammates to play to, which slowed gave the US more time to get behind the ball. Trinidad and Tobago was much faster than the Americans but for whatever reason rarely used their speed and would routinely shoot from long range, which Meola either easily handled or watched sail by. The high pressure from the Americans gave them trouble.
Both defenses were playing about 10 yards deeper than modern day defensive lines. This opened up the space in the midfield and both squads could start their offenses several yards closer than today.
Mike Windischmann, the new captain of the US team said to his teammates, “Don’t you realize if we lose some of us will have to go out and get jobs?” —Philly Soccer Page
Times are estimated as no clock was given on the screen.
12’ – Meola snuffs Trinidad and Tobago’s best and first real attempt on goal. A speedy counter and a low cross sent just outside the six yard box put the US on edge but Meola came out in textbook fashion to corral the shot. It’s unclear if the shooter got a foot on it or not but Meola played it in such a way that it wouldn’t matter. The attack happened so fast the crowd seems not really understand how close they were to scoring.
15’ – A very good passing sequence to show how crafty and resilient the US team was but they were unable to produce anything in the final third. After a string of creative passes, a hopeful cross is sailed over the 18.
20’ – Caliguri lets Murray have it, demanding he start coming back to the midfield more instead of going forward every time. Murray is displaying a little bit of a limp at this point.
29’ – Doyle gets away with take down in the box which would have most definitely been a penalty in today’s game.
“In today’s game, that’s a foul, for sure. But back in those days, you had to really crush somebody for it to be a penalty. There was good contact on that one, so I was happy it wasn’t a foul.” – John Doyle
Trinidad and Tobago defender Brian Williams gets a hard tackle on Harkes soon after the no call in the box, surely in response for the tackle by Doyle. Another tackle that would have been handed a yellow card in modern day. The ball cleared out of bounds set up the throw-in to Caliguri.
31’ – Goal. Caliguri was given acres of space and took a shot about thirty yards out. He struck the ball by shooting across his body, giving the ball a fading trail to the right, away from the goalkeeper.
“Up to now, people have asked me what happened. They said the sun was in my eyes but that is not the reason the goal scored and let me tell you what happened. When Paul Caligiuri striked that ball I was obstructed. I didn’t see when he struck the ball. If I had seen when he struck the ball, even though it was passing through the sun, I would have known to move a little bit to my left or to my right. But the main reason why that goal was scored, when it was struck, I couldn’t see the ball. Had I seen the ball, I could have taken a few steps to the left to catch it but I did not see when the ball was struck.”
—Maurice Michael, goalkeeper
“That might be the shot heard ‘round the world…”
“Boy, putting Paul Caliguri in the midfield has really paid off” – Malin
An annoying ESPN immediate score update followed seconds after the goal. The live feed shrunk to 75 percent as updates appeared on the bottom.
43’ – Malin comments on a shot from far out, “As they say in Trinidad, that ball is behind God’s back. It’s an expression to mean it is nowhere to be found. Way off target.”
45’ – Meola brings out a white hat to block the setting sun. Now with the wind at his back, Meola is sending his punts very far downfield.
61’ – Stollmeyer subs on for Krumpe. Krumpe was dealing with a foot injury and Stollmeyer was an experienced player with the US, playing in his ninth qualifier. In a few more minutes, Malin comments on Stollmeyer’s family connection to a castle in Trinidad and Tobago.
65’ – Talk of China falling out of qualification, allowing two goals in four minutes to Qatar.
67’ – Vermes and Murray are dropping deeper to help the US defense.
68-76’ – Commentator audio goes out. Field audio is still available.
78’ – Murray is fairly immobile but is never subbed off even though Eichman and Banks are warming up.
80’ – The crowd picking up, singing “We want a goal!” The US takes a corner with only two Americans waiting in the box for the cross. The commentators are making several comments about how much time the US has shaved off the time with various plays.
82’ – Trinidad and Tobago shoot wide from outside of the box. Meola yells at ball and Malin suggest he says to the ball, “You’re not going between the posts!”
86’ – Security start lining field from the stands. Everyone is on their feet and even twenty-five years later, the feeling is tense.
87’ – Trittschuh makes saving tackle as Trinidad and Tobago connect passes to get inside the 18.
88’ – “Everybody here is out of breath! Players, announcers…”
“Well this one is!”
90’ – The US continues to just clear the ball downfield. No Americans are in the attacking half.
“I have thirty seconds left on my watch. I don’t know what the ref’s says.”
“I hope it says less. Ball cleared out by Windischmann. Ramos coming back for the USA. A gusty performance by a very young team that has gotten better with time. They’ve withstood a lot of criticism. Defensively they’ve been outstanding. Offensively they just simply couldn’t buy a goal. Time running out! Precious seconds left. The USA on a Paul Caliguri goal from Tab Ramos in the 34’ minute. They’re trying to hold on to go to ITALY AND THEY DO! The USA has realized their dream and will qualify for the World Cup in nineteen-ninety!”
“Seamus practice your Italian!”
“Where is Al Michaels when you need him?? Incredible for the United States!”
“It wasn’t like it is today. We had no pro league and no money and very little organization. Looking back it’s amazing that we achieved what we did. We had guys playing in semi-pro leagues and Sunday leagues just trying to keep fit, and in the end we did it. Everything the US has achieved since then is based on that win.”
“It was the single most important game we ever won. It proved to the rest of the world we can play and we can qualify. We knew what was on the line for the future of soccer in the United States.”
“I was a 21-year-old kid back then and I had my whole career in front of me. We were so close to reaching the World Cup and then we all woke up the next morning to realize our dreams had been dashed.”
—Russell Latapy, Trinidad and Tobago midfielder
“The disappointment was almost too much to bear.”
—Dwight Yorke, Trinidad and Tobago forward
“No, no they didn’t come down on me [after the goal]. After the game we all made a lap around the field and everybody in the stands stood up and applauded us. So yes they were disappointed but they still supported the team.”
—Maurice Michaels, Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper
1. Referee Juan Carlos Loustau called a very tight game
Loustau could have been responding to the Roberto Rojas incident where a goalkeeper feigned being bloodied by a firework by cutting himself with a blade he kept in his glove. Dellacamera points out to the viewers that Loustau was the active ref in that game just a little over a month earlier, on September 3rd, 1989.
Malin states during the game that the field was “more than playable field” with “perfect weather” despite misleading reports from back home. However Trittschuh remembers, “It was an ugly game. The field was terrible, the ball was bouncing all over the place.” Players are slipping on the field several times despite it supposed to be dry from lack of rain.
Somewhat related, there doesn’t appear to be very many extra balls on hand. When a ball is kicked out of bounds, the player taking the throw-in must wait for that specific ball to be retrieved.
Dwight Yorke and Russell Latapy
Yorke had just recently signed with Aston Villa and was on the starting roster for Trinidad and Tobago. Latapy would later go on to manage the national team. Together, the two combined for 155 appearances and 48 goals with Trinidad and Tobago
Goalies could pick up back passes
This was a common strategy to carefully distribute the ball that typically ended up in a booming punt from the goalkeeper. FIFA later made this play illegal.
Party in the back
Harkes, Ramos, Windischmann, and Meola were all sporting mullets, which gave them some added help, we can only assume.
There were a comical fifteen second commercials in the middle of the game. The audience never knew how much time had elapsed outside of how much the announcers were guessing. There appears to only be two camera angles, which are very similar in angle, and the commentators’ audio drops for about seven minutes in the second half.
As for the men in the both, John Paul Dellacamera and Seamus Malin gave an excellent coverage of the game that afternoon. They displayed clear knowledge of the game while also knowing quite a bit about the surrounding current events. Often they would tie in current events for both in America and Trinidad, such as an astronaut named Sonny Carter who pre-recorded an inspiration message for the USMNT to be heard.
The Strike Squad is still remembered very fondly
When I spoke with Michael he was very proud of his team and why the nation supported them so much.
“Well one of the things is that they were not professional players. All of us were amateur and we spent a lot of time together leading up to November 19th. We were playing matches together, we were in camp together. We had a real tight unit. The marketing of our players were excellent. We were a bunch of players everyone knew. When we qualified for the World Cup in 2006 and they didn’t get the kind of marketing. A lot of people didn’t know the players that well. So the public knew this team and this team had a kind of mesh to it. We lost but the public, you know we had a few that were upset, but the general feeling was a sense of a kind of satisfaction that a team from such a small island could play such good football and go so far. They were disappointed we didn’t qualify for the World Cup but they were very happy with the team and the humility the team had. The public still backed us.
Even now, most of the Strike Squad team stuck together. We’ll get invited to play somewhere in the country and you will be amazed at the kind of football we still play. And we’re in our 40s! Yeah, yeah yeah! People are still impressed because we stayed together for so long and we understand each other. A lot of people say that they haven’t seen a national team play like the way that Strike Squad played.