It’s rare that the course of history is changed in a moment. But with one swing of Paul Caligiuri's left leg, that’s what happened on a bumpy field one steamy afternoon in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad on Nov. 19, 1989.It was the final game of a grueling 10-game qualifying march to the 1990 World Cup in Italy, and the Americans had scored just nine goals in the previous nine matches. More than half of those came in one game, a 5-1 victory against Jamaica in the second game of qualifying. The USA was coming off consecutive 0-0 ties, against Guatemala at home and El Salvador on the road, and needed a win to qualify for a World Cup tournament for the first time in 40 years.
The stadium was jammed to the brim – a full six hours before the match – with Trinidadians who were swathed in red and poised for a celebration the likes of which the island had never seen. The match was played on a Sunday and the government had even declared the following Monday a national holiday in preemptive celebration of qualifying for the nation’s first-ever World Cup.
But it was the Americans on whom fortune smiled. In the 30th minute, Caligiuri, who was playing midfield in that match, took a simple square pass from Tab Ramos, controlled the bouncing ball with his midsection and ran toward goal. He took a big windup with his right leg, freezing a defender, cut the ball to the inside and struck a left-footed half-volley from about 30 yards that looped and dipped forcefully into the lower right corner for a goal.
The goal was one of just five Caligiuri scored in his National Team career and, although he would also score in the first match of the 1990 World Cup, it was surely his most important.
Now known as the “shot heard ‘round the world,” Caliguiri’s goal has reverberated through the generations in U.S. Soccer history. It’s not a stretch to say it is one of the most important goals in U.S. history as it started a run of seven consecutive World Cup appearances and counting. A run, perhaps unthinkable 30 years ago, that has spurred the exponential growth of the game in the United States.
“It was a stunning goal,” said long-time soccer broadcast J.P. Dellacamera, who called the game from Port-of-Spain for ESPN. “To me, it’s the goal that defined soccer in this country. If he doesn’t score there, if they don’t win there, I don’t think everything else that’s happened would have happened quite the same way.”