AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Ahead of yet more important matches against Trinidad and Tobago, Paul Caligiuri told American soccer players about the biggest one.
Caligiuri's 28-yard shot in the 30th minute lifted the United States to a 1--0 victory at Port-of-Spain's National Stadium on Nov. 19, 1989, and into the World Cup for the first time since 1950.
“We’re looking at now three generations from when I began, late ‘80s and ’90s,” Caligiuri said a day before Thursday's game, the first of two in a five-day span against the Soca Warriors that will determine a berth in next year’s Copa América and the CONCACAF Nations League semifinals. “I said, `You guys are the best team we’ve ever had. And in my personal opinion, looking from afar, either on TV or at the games, it seems to me that you guys enjoy playing and you enjoy playing for each other, and that’s the recipe for success.' ”
Caligiuri addressed the team Wednesday at the invitation of coach Gregg Berhalter.
“We wouldn’t have been here in this same state if it wasn’t for us qualifying for that World Cup, if it wasn’t for his goal,” Berhalter said. “I thought no better way on the anniversary of the goal and actually playing Trinidad to honor one of our ex-teammates and really pay tribute to his contribution to U.S. soccer.”
Now 59, Caligiuri scored five goals in 110 international appearances and retired after the 2001 season.
“I got a chill when I walk in that room, to be honest with you, and hadn't had that feeling and emotion for quite a long time,” he said. "There’s been a lot of resources pumped into the game and you see the experts around supporting the team in every capacity from the physical to the mental to the sport science. It’s just amazing. And when I look at how far the game has gone, with the women's (team) winning massive world championships to us hosting now another World Cup, to see where these players on this current U.S. men’s national team play, they’re not just playing in Europe, they’re playing on big clubs in Europe and they’re playing in Champions League. It’s just fascinating. It’s almost hard to think what the next decade is going to lead to."
Atlanta defender Miles Robinson is the only Major League Soccer player on the U.S. roster. Robinson and New England defender DeJuan Jones were the only MLS players on the October roster as Berhalter relies heavily on a Europe-based squad in the start of his second term as American coach.
“You have a combination of MLS being in the middle of their playoffs. You have the form of some players both in MLS and in Europe. You have us wanting to look at some younger alternatives," Berhalter said. “We don’t get hung up on where the players are coming from. We’re looking at how do we grow this team, grow the player pool and give experience to a broad selection of players?”
Christian Pulisic, Tim Weah and captain Tyler Adams will miss the total-goals series because of injuries.
“It’s easy for us to sit here on this side and say we want to change soccer in America forever, right?” Berhalter said. “But the real meat of it is we have to win games like this and we have to position ourselves to win trophies in the Nations League and to compete in the Copa América.”
In October 2017, the U.S. lost at Trinidad on the final day of qualifying when the Americans needed only a draw, a defeat that ended a streak of seven World Cup appearances.
“Trinidad's always going to be a special opponent,” Caligiuri said.
Defender Tim Ream is the only player from the defeat at Couva currently in the U.S. training camp.
“I hope it’s always still in our minds,” Berhalter said. “Just like we can embrace the good stuff, we also have to embrace the bad stuff. And it was a great learning moment for us collectively, the coaches involved, the players involved. In my opinion, it’s not about ignoring that, it’s about embracing it and leaning into it.”
Midfielder Gio Reyna, who turned 21 on Monday, is expected to get more playing time after being removed at halftime in exhibitions against Germany and Ghana last month, his first national team appearances since breaking a leg in June. Reyna has not played a 90-minute match for club or country since March 2022.
“I don’t envision him having minutes restriction in this game,” Berhalter said. “It’s more about how long can he maintain his high levels.”
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