'It's embedded in us': Caligiuri confident USMNT history will repeat in Trinidad

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The author of the Shot Heard `Round the World has no doubt the USMNT can replicate his heroics in the Caribbean.

Paul Caligiuri can recall every detail.

He remembers the dorms in a converted school where the U.S. men’s national team stayed in Florida in the lead-up to the trip to Trinidad, and he remembers the one payphone shared by the whole floor. He remembers learning he would start in midfield, the only game he ever played there for the U.S. He remembers Tony Meola stretched out on the only couch in the lobby and a casual conversation in which they dreamed of a Meola shutout and a Caligiuri game-winning goal.

Nearly three decades after the Shot Heard ‘Round the World, the man who sent the U.S. to the World Cup for the first time in 40 years will watch the U.S. on Tuesday night travel to Trinidad to try once again to book a trip to the game’s biggest stage. The U.S. will need a result on the final day of qualifying for the first time since Caligiuri’s strike in 1989 sent the U.S. to Italia ’90. A 4-0 win over Panama on Friday night helped to ease some of the pressure.

It has been an anxiety-filled qualifying campaign, but it’s nothing like the pressure Caligiuri and his teammates once faced. Few players on that team had contracts outside of the $1,500 a month deal they had from the national team. There was no MLS for most, and no million-dollar contracts. The national team played some of its key World Cup qualifiers at community colleges. Caligiuri said there was some threat the World Cup in 1994 would be moved out of the country if the Americans failed to make the World Cup in 1990.

Talk about pressure.

“Any type of future, any type of livelihood was on the line,” Caligiuri told FourFourTwo USA last week.

But just because the pressure his team faced was different doesn’t mean Caligiuri thinks this U.S. team has it easy. The pressure on the U.S. team now lies in the expectations, Caligiuri said, and the expectation of the country is the U.S. qualifies for the World Cup. The troubled road CONCACAF often brings does not make qualifying easy. After Honduras’ draw with Costa Rica on Saturday, however, the path to Russia is a bit less perilous.

A win sends the U.S. through in third place. A draw gives the Americans’ the third spot, too, as long as Honduras and Panama don’t win and close a goal-differential gap of seven and 12 goals, respectively. Even a loss wouldn’t necessarily knock the U.S. out of the World Cup.

With the World Cup on the line, there’s poetry to the fact that this cycle’s final qualifying game is, once again, in Trinidad and Tobago. Caligiuri will be watching intently, remembering what it felt like to see that ball hit the back of the net and to know he had changed the course of the sport in his country.

That memory is part of the reason Caligiuri had no hesitation saying the U.S. will qualify for Russia.

“It’s embedded in us,” Caligiuri said. “This is the American way. We play to win … This is who we are. When I look at it at an individual level: Altidore, Dempsey, Michael Bradley, they are huge leaders on this team. Tim Howard. This is it for many of them. Most likely these guys are not going to be there in 2022. It’s just an age thing and new players coming through the system … They’re stars.

“But what’s going to come through them is their opportunity to leave [the national team] on a high note. And the World Cup is it. So, however they got there, and their ambitions as kids growing up in the game, and the effort they put in to get to the next level, to play in Europe, to get to World Cups, it will resurface. That’s how these guys will lead us through.”

Facebook Live

Every Thursday we do a live Q&A on FourFourTwo’s Facebook page. I select one question from that Facebook Live session to expand upon in my Monday column. Come join us this Thursday!

Nicholas Klein - With Weston Mckennie starting to break through at Schalke who is that young guy who could really make a big impact and a big push for that 2018 USA world cup squad if we qualify

There are several players who could potentially break onto the roster when we talk about the 2018 World Cup, and we’ll focus in on the two best candidates. The first is the one our commenter mentioned, McKennie, who has started to play and start at Schalke and thus has entered into the conversation. As long as McKennie continues to receive playing time in Germany, he has a chance to work himself into a World Cup roster spot.

The other name is a kid who is having a phenomenal season in New York. I fully expect Tyler Adams to make the U.S. World Cup roster for 2018. His versatility is a key factor – he can play both in central midfield and as a right back – and his recent play on the outside in the Red Bulls’ five-man back line has rocketed him into contention for a spot in Russia.

If you’re betting on any one young player who hasn’t broken into the senior roster to be at the World Cup, I’d put the money on Adams.

The Final Third

The FC Dallas penalty

The controversy around the use of an ineligible player by FC Dallas in a 0-0 draw with Orlando City came to a conclusion on Friday when the league announced FC Dallas would be docked $75,000 in general allocation money and fined another $25,000.

I spoke with multiple MLS general managers and coaches around the league over the past week-plus about the violation. The majority of them feel the punishment fell short of what should happen. For most, the obvious answer for the use of an ineligible player was that Dallas should be forced to forfeit. What that means and how that would be instituted, however, varies.

Here’s one thing that may ease Orlando City fans’ minds about the lack of a forfeit: Even if Dallas was forced to forfeit, the result likely would have been that Dallas was docked one point, not that Orlando would be awarded two extra points. While FIFA has often awarded a winner and a loser in tournament play due to a forfeit, the precedent for forfeiture within a league season is often solely a docking of points for the violating team. It’s unlikely MLS would have come up with any sort of ruling in which Orlando benefitted with two extra points.

Still, that one point could play a big role in the playoff race as FC Dallas fights to hold on to the final Western Conference playoff spot. You can bet Real Salt Lake and San Jose are fuming at the decision not to dock points.

How did the league come to its conclusion? Sources indicate the league was in contact with other leagues and IFAB about how it would approach this violation, and it considered multiple levels of punishment. Ultimately, MLS believed it may be opening up a sort of Pandora’s box had it opted to dock Dallas points: What violations would then constitute that level of punishment going forward?

Most teams around the league I spoke with feel very much the opposite. By not punishing Dallas with a loss of points for violating a clearly-written rule, the league set a dangerous precedent. What’s to stop a team from violating this same rule again and simply taking the fine? The allocation money, while valuable, is easily replaceable. Was this enough to deter future violations? The league certainly feels the answer is yes, because an ignorance about the rule is no longer a valid excuse – even for an administrative error involving officials –  and so the punishment for a future violation would likely be greater than the one given to Dallas.

One area to keep an eye on: the role of the officials in this controversy.

How to take officials out of the ineligible player equation ... (Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)

How to take officials out of the ineligible player equation ... (Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)

Referees actually have no power in enforcing Major League Soccer’s competition rules. Just as the referees had to allow Florent Malouda to play in the Gold Cup this summer, which resulted in a forfeit for French Guiana, MLS officials technically cannot stop a team from fielding an ineligible player. So, while FC Dallas and the league both pointed to the referees’ administrative error and the role it played in this violation, the true responsibility for fielding the ineligible player falls squarely on FC Dallas. No spin can change that. It’s also why FC Dallas was held responsible for the mistake via a fine.

It would not be surprising to see referees removed from this equation going forward, with teams perhaps required to submit their gameday rosters to the league in another fashion.

Kaka in Orlando

The Orlando Sentinel, last week, reported two key pieces of news regarding Orlando City’s plan moving forward. The first is that Jason Kreis will return to coach the team. The second is that the club has extended an offer to Kaka to play in MLS again next season.

Sources indicate the offer would be a substantial decrease in pay for Kaka. It’s a key factor here for both parties, because Orlando City has some work to do to improve a roster that failed to qualify for the playoffs for a third consecutive season.

“At the end of the day, it has to be good for him and for the club to stay,” Orlando City CEO Alex Leitao told the Sentinel. “If it’s not going to be good for one of the parties, it’s not going to happen and we’ll both understand. It’s a friendship, and a guy that I respect a lot. So, I’ll always be cheering for him and wishing him the best. Again, he has to look for his interests and I have to look for the interests of the club. Hopefully, both interests are aligned. That would be great.”

Reads of the week

A powerful story from The Washington Post regarding two strangers who were together in Las Vegas when the shooting began. One didn’t make it.

I’m a huge fan of Kevin Clark, who has continued to destroy the NFL beat since moving on from the Wall Street Journal to The Ringer. Clark has an eye for finding the quirky story, and this, on Jerry Rice the Wedding Crasher, is another classic.

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