Trinidad & Tobago fans, jamming the stadium, wore red for their team – all week long. (Michael Lewis/FrontRowSoccer)
Thirty-three years ago today, Saturday, Nov. 19, 1989, the U.S. men’s national team qualified for its first World Cup in 40 years by defeating host Trinidad & Tobago in the final qualifier for Italia 90. FrontRowSoccer.com editor Michael Lewis covered the game and sets the scene with this story.
By Michael Lewis
After playing to a pair of consecutive scoreless draws in Guatemala and then at the St. Louis Soccer Park, the U.S. men’s national team found itself in a must-win situation against Trinidad & Tobago on Nov. 19, 1989.
“It’s a very big game,” defender Steve Trittschuh said. “The whole nation is on our shoulders. If we qualify, the next four years will be big. There is pressure on us. We know what to do.
“The whole world doesn’t have a lot of respect for us. If we don’t qualify, people will say, ‘Why did the U.S. get the cup? There is pressure on us. Nobody talks about it. It’s there. You read it in the papers. We know that it is about the future of soccer in this country.”
It wasn’t going to be easy. The U.S. had not won a World Cup qualifier on the road – not even at a neutral site – in more than 21 years, when the Americans defeated Bermuda in Hamilton, 2-0, on Nov. 10, 1968.
And Trinidad & Tobago wasn’t about to role over and die.
In fact, they literally painted the town red for the game after a government asked its citizens, especially Port of Spain residents to show their support by reveling in that color, whether it was in clothes, drapes or flags.
The government dedicated every day of the preceding week to its national team. On Sunday, Nov. 12, exactly a week before the game, the government asked its citizens to wear red — its national colors — in a show of support for its soccer team.
Another day was set aside for prayer for the team.
Calypso ballads also were composed, singing the praises of coach Everett Cummings, who once played for the New York Cosmos, of the team, and even of the 88th-minute goal that Trinidad scored to secure that 1-1 tie back on May 13.
“When the Yankees come to the stadium, we’re going to beat them like bongs,” said one of the songs composed by a musician called Super Blue.
“It’s soccer madness,” said Mervyn Wells, managing editor of Trinidad Express. “It hasn’t been keyed up like this for anything at all.”
The madness was for football, as it is known in this tiny Caribbean country, which needed only a tie to become the smallest country — 1.2 million population — to reach Italia ’90.
“That’s what all the people are talking about in the streets, nothing else,” Wells said. “They’re wondering how they’re getting a ticket, what team they’re going to put on the field, who’s going to be put on the sidelines.”
On Sunday, Nov. 19 Hasely Crawford Stadium was a sea of red, as an overflowing crowd of more than 30,000 word red as popular calypso stars sang songs about the road to the World Cup two hours before the kickoff. Fans arrived six hours before the match to make sure they would get a seat.
Everything was geared for a Trinidad tie or victory, but someone forgot to tell the U.S.