Paul Caligiuri in the U.S. locker room after scoring for the U.S. in the 1-0 win over Trinidad in 1989. (Michael Lewis/FrontRowSoccer.com)
By Michael Lewis
Listen, I realize that the U.S. national team and U.S. Soccer has much bigger things to deal with, but an intriguing thought came into my mind for the 2018 CONCACAF Hexagonal finale in Trinidad & Tobago Oct. 10:
Make Paul Caligiuri the head of delegation for the World Cup qualifier in Port of Spain.
If you don’t know who Paul Caligiuri is – well, then shame on you , because he is one of the most important figures in U.S. soccer history.
On Nov. 19, 1989, Caligiuri scored the lone goal of the U.S.’s 1-0 triumph at Hasely Crawford Stadium, a result that propelled the Americans into their first World Cup in 40 years.
And who among the U.S. delegation on that fateful Sunday in Port of Spain? Hey, none other than the great Walter Bahr and Harry Keough. Now, I don’t remember whether if they were the heads of delegation, but their presence inspired at least one player — Paul Caligiuri.
“To have a former World Cup player there when we’re going to the first World Cup in 40 years is like, ‘Wow, we do have World Cup players around,’ ” Caligiuri told me about Bahr a few years ago. “It was kind of cool. I remember, not just me, but generally speaking with the players, you wanted to reach out and talk to him. You wanted to get a moment alone with him. He really connected with the players. We thought that was awesome. The guy played in the World Cup in a different period, a different era from what we were embarking upon. It put things into perspective that we had it a lot better than we thought. It made us look at what we had in the current situation and be grateful for that and remain focused on what we needed to do on the field, rather than be distracted in other places. He was a joy to have around.”
Bahr and Keough were both 62 at the time.
Caligiuri is 53.
There is much more to Caligiuri’s career. He made 110 international appearances, scoring five goals and played in Germany for several years and in six Major League Soccer seasons.
Caligiuri’s legacy is set.
The 1989 and 2017 scenarios do have similarities. The U.S. needed a win in T&T to reach Italia ’90. Assuming the Americans secure three points against Panama in a WCQ in Orlando Oct. 6, they probably will need a victory in Port of Spain this time around.
Caligiuri can be an inspiring figure for the team, given his background and experiences. He can talk to the team and relate what he and his colleagues from 28 years ago had to overcome.
At this juncture, Caligiuri’s presence could not hurt.
It certainly can help.
Like I said, the team and U.S. soccer has great things with which to concern itself, but every little bit helps at this juncture, including inspiration from the most obvious sources.
Hey, like I said, just a thought.
Hopefully, someone is listening.