USA returned to the FIFA World Cup™ finals after 40 years in the
wilderness on 19 November 1989, while Trinidad and Tobago were left
to ponder just where it all went wrong. Join
FIFA.com for a closer look at the final CONCACAF
qualifier for Italy 1990 and the 'shot heard round the
19 November 1989, National Stadium, Port of Spain
Trinidad and Tobago 0-1 USA
Scorers: Paul Caligiuri
Trinidad and Tobago: Maurice, Morris, Williams, Francis, Faustin, Latapy, Lewis, Allen, Jones, Yorke, Jamerson.
USA: Meola, Windischmann, Doyle, Trittschuh, Krumpe, Caligiuri, Bliss, Harkes, Ramos, Vermes, Murray.
The US were given little-to-no chance of reaching the 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy, even with a window opened due to the disqualification of traditional powers Mexico. The Americans had not qualified for a world finals since their trip to Brazil in 1950, where, thanks to a fortuitous flick by Joe Gaetjens, they famously beat England in Belo Horizonte.
Their 40 years in the wilderness was not the only negative factor working against USA in 1989. Unlike today, the side was a loosely-knit gang of University players and semi-professionals. In the squad were future stars such as Tab Ramos, Tony Meola and John Harkes, but the only full-professional player at the time was defender Paul Caligiuri, who, as it turned out, proved the match winner.
Soccer was of only nominal concern to most Americans in 1989,
but there was a lot riding on the outcome of their last qualifier
with Trinidad and Tobago as they were awarded hosting rights for
the 1994 finals. The Americans had scored only one goal in their
last three qualifying games and needed to win in Port of Spain,
which was in full party mode, against what was considered the best
Trinidadian side of all time, with the likes of Russell Latapy and
Add to that the fact that no US team had won an away qualifier in more than 21 years, and it was nothing short of mission impossible for the Yanks.
It was a scorching evening in the Trinidadian capital, which was literally painted red to match the home team's jerseys. All the Soca Warriors needed was a draw in front of more than 30,000 fanatical supporters to reach their first-ever FIFA World Cup. It did not seem too tough a task against an American side that was on a scoring drought of over 200 consecutive minutes.
Tony Meola was the man who had kept the dream alive for USA up to that point. "We went three games without conceding a goal before we went to Port of Spain," the then-University of Virginia goalkeeper told FIFA.com. "But we needed to win and we weren't sure where the goals were going to come from."
Just after the half-hour mark his question was answered. Caligiuri stepped up to collect a square ball from Bruce Murray, which bobbled up off the ruddy pitch. Instead of laying it off for the darting Tab Ramos or looking to keep possession, the defender - who would only ever score five goals in 110 appearances for his country - beat one man and swung his left foot hopefully. The shot looped in an arc towards the Trinidadian goal and caught keeper Michael Maurice, who claims to have been blinded by the sun, off his line.
The goal was dubbed 'the shot heard round the world' by a suddenly interested US media, opportunistically smelling a novelty story to sell. It later became known as simply 'the shot' in the USA.
"There was a lot of luck involved," Caligiuri later said of the game's deciding goal. "I was a long way away but I knew when it came off his foot that it had a chance of going in," added Meola, whose job on the night had only begun.
The American goalkeeper was put under pressure for the remaining 60 minutes, pulling off save after save in yet another splendid performance. "They threw everything they had at us," he said.
There was only ever one star in the game: Paul Caligiuri. Then with SV Meppen, he previously lined up for Hamburg and later for Hansa Rostock before ending his career at home in Major League Soccer. The California native was a surprise starter for coach Bob Gansler against T&T. Just recovering from a broken bone in his foot, he stepped in for John Stollmeyer, the side's usual centre-back. In addition to the iconic goal, Caligiuri did his part to keep teenage sensation Dwight Yorke and Russell Latapy away from Meola's goal.
"It wasn't like it is today. We had no pro league and no money and very little organisation. 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," Tony Meola, USA goalkeeper
"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," Paul Calgiuri, USA defender
"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 realise our dreams had been dashed," Russell Latapy, Trinidad and Tobago midfielder
What happened next?
Football slowly became more than just a niche sport in the USA after that fateful day in November 1989. The national team has gone on to qualify for every FIFA World Cup since, reaching the second round as hosts in 1994 and the quarter-finals in 2002. Major League Soccer (MLS) was launched in 1996 and is growing stronger with each year as USA, alongside Mexico, are now considered the best team in the CONCACAF zone.
Trinidad and Tobago suffered a protracted crisis of confidence until their own fairytale finally came true in 2006. After beating Bahrain in an inter-continental play-off, the Soca Warriors - complete with survivors from 1989, Yorke and Latapy - joined USA at their first FIFA World Cup finals in Germany. They unexpectedly drew with Sweden in Dortmund in their first match, before losing to England and Paraguay.
Members of the US and T&T teams from 1989 played a friendly rematch in Port of Spain in 2006, the hosts having their revenge with a 4-1 win.