This year marks the 20th anniversary of the USA hosting the 1994 World Cup and reaching the second round of a World Cup for the first time since 1930. Paul Caligiuri, who also scored the goal that qualified the USA for the 1990 World Cup to end a 40-year drought, is our first subject as we look back on the year two decades ago that changed the course of American soccer.
By Mike Woitalla
Paul Caligiuri is supposed to fly from his Southern California home to appear in a USA-Mexico legends game in Chicago. But he has to cancel at the last minute for another soccer commitment. His U-13 Irvine Strikers girls team has a State Cup game. Caligiuri, who turns 50 in March, also coaches a U-17 boys team at Strikers’ club.
“I like coaching youth soccer more than I did college soccer,” says Caligiuri, who coached at Cal Poly Pomona from 2002 to 2008. “I learned a lot at Pomona. You’ve got recruiting, getting players in, having a structural plan, helping them become student-athletes and later getting jobs. I learned a lot, but in college it’s managing and coaching 70-30 -- you’re managing more than coaching. Youth is a lot of development. I like developing more than managing.”
Caligiuri moved into college coaching just one year after retiring -- the last season of his 15 years of pro ball coming with the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2001. He coached both men and women at Cal Poly for four seasons and just the boys for the last three. He also started a youth club.
His return to coaching, with the Strikers, came after a couple years in the publishing business, a venture with magazines distributed in hotel rooms. He’s now on the verge of launching a soccer web site for club administrators, coaches and players -- a project he collaborated on with 1994 World Cup teammateTom Dooley until he left to coach the Philippines’ national team.
Caligiuri is most famous for scoring the goal against Trinidad & Tobago that qualified the USA for the 1990 World Cup. That ended a 40-year U.S. World Cup absence and helped silence critics claiming the USA wasn’t worthy of hosting a World Cup.
Caligiuri, who blazed the trail for Americans playing abroad when he went to the Bundesliga’s Hamburg SV after his UCLA career, was playing for Germany’s SV Meppen while most his teammates were trying to scrape out a living in the USA’s minor leagues and from national team duty in this era between the demise of the old NASL and the advent of MLS.
“We were playing for our livelihoods and our dreams," Caligiuri says of the qualification for Italia '90 in November 1989.
After the 1990 World Cup, where Caligiuri scored one of the USA’s two goals in a first-round exit, he signed with Hansa Rostock and helped it win the league and cup double in the last season of East German soccer. He had stints with Freiburg and St. Pauli before joining MLS in its inaugural 1996 season.
The pressure at the 1994 World Cup was to reach the second round -- as no host had ever failed to do that until that point. The USA, thanks to a win over Colombia and a tie with Switzerland, succeeded, before falling to eventual champ Brazil in the second round.
"Hosting the 1994 World Cup established us as a soccer nation," says Caligiuri. "It earned lots of money for American soccer, introduced Americans to the World Cup and gave the game here an incredible boost that has helped us progress ever since."
Caligiuri is the only field player who played every minute of all seven U.S. games at the 1990 and 1994 World Cups. He also played every minute of the USA’s historic fourth-place finish at the 1995 Copa America, helped the USA win the 1991 Gold Cup, and played at the 1988 Olympics.
So we had to ask him how he felt about being left off the left off U.S. Soccer’s All-Time Men's National Team Best XI that was announced as part of the federation’s centennial celebrations:
“I didn’t play the game for awards and accolades. I think there are a lot of great players, especially on our national team today. I think the current national team is the most talented we’ve ever had. ... Now we're sitting on pins and needles waiting to see what’s going to happen this summer in Brazil."
(Paul Caligiuri will be hosting, with Frank Zimmerman of Oceanside Breakers, a Army National Guard’s Grassroots Soccer (GRS) clinic at Oceanside High School in Oceanside, Calif., March 18, 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm. Free registration HERE.)