Paul Caligiuri retraces his steps from Southern California youth soccer to a career that included an NCAA title, two World Cup appearances and six seasons in Germany.
SOCCER AMERICA: Let's start at the beginning ...
PAUL CALIGIURI: I started in the early '70s. Soccer was new in the area I grew up in ù the Diamond Bar-Walnut area of Southern California. It wasn't popular like Little League or Pop Warner. We joined through word-of-mouth from a kid down the street.
SA: When did your youth career take off?
PC: After three years in AYSO, I was recruited from that group onto a club team. We had to travel good distances to play quality teams.
I was introduced to a more competitive level, a larger scale. We played against all of Southern California. We played South Bay United, Torrance United and La Jolla Nomads. Those were the big opponents emerging at the time. The club I played for was called Diamond Bar Kickers. We were one of the top teams.
SA: What are the advantages of learning to play soccer in California?
PC: Here the competition is great because of the numbers. Also, we have the ability to play all year round. You have a variety of ethnic groups. You get a variety of styles.
SA: What players influenced you the most?
PC: The primary influence I had was playing against a lot of Latin players and teams. It was their sport at the time. Those seemed to be the more difficult and tougher teams.
SA: What coaches influenced you the most?
PC: At the youth level, George Ratajczak. He introduced me to the game on the world level. He organized tournaments and arranged for a fund-raiser that made it possible for our team to go to Germany.
At 15, I was introduced to a broader spectrum of the game.
I would have to credit Sigi Schmid for helping me develop in my college years [at UCLA]. Guiding me on and off the field has helped me gain more maturity and leadership.
SA: Was there a rivalry between Northern and Southern California?
PC: We had a tournament in which state teams played each other. I don't know if we had enough history established to have rivalries. But, when you represent your state organization ù CYSA-South ù there is a lot of pride involved.
The natural rivalry to evolve would be Northern California. I think that's where it's at today. There's a tremendous amount of talent in both areas. Even in Central California, it's constantly growing.
SA: Did you watch soccer as a kid?
PC: I watched Soccer Made in Germany. I subscribed to issues where they sent you a profile, on Thursday, for the teams in the Game of the Week on Saturday. I was able to read up on these teams. It was great.
Then, I took interest in the L.A. Aztecs and the California Surf. I was able to see two teams play. When one was away, the other was at home.
SA: Looking back, how did California become so successful in producing players?
PC: We develop a lot of great athletes. That's where the sport of soccer has benefited. Prior to soccer being established, you've seen great athletes come out of California. Soccer is feeding off that.
by Soccer America assistant editor Bryan Alvarez