US Soccer & The Failure Heard ‘Round The World
There is something circular about US Soccer’s failure in Trinidad last night. It was in 1989 that US Soccer went to the small island nation in a must win qualifier and Paul Caligiuri scored “the shot heard ’round the world” that announced the United States arrival onto the international soccer stage with qualification for the 1990 World Cup.
It was on that same island of Trinidad that US Soccer was forced to go quietly into the night, at least for four years. The last time the United States wasn’t in a FIFA World Cup, 1986, it was held in Mexico, and the only other CONCACAF team represented was Canada. The Soviet Union and West Germany fielded teams. Diego Maradona led Argentina to victory over West Germany in the final, but will forever be remembered for his “Hand of God” goal against England in the quarter-finals. The England-Argentina match-up was played with massive geopolitical overtones, as it came four years after the Falklands War had been fought between the two countries.
The last time there was a World Cup without the United States Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley weren’t even been born yet, and Clint Dempsey was three years old. The Cosby Show was the most popular show on television and the gritty Vietnam movie Platoon was the Oscar winner for best picture. Stephen King’s It was the best-selling book and Oprah made her debut on national television.
There was no professional outdoor soccer league in the United States. The US Open Cup was won by the St. Louis Kutis, who defeated San Pedro Yugoslavs 1-0. In the semi-pro outdoor league, the Western Soccer Alliance (WSA), the Hollywood Kickers finished on top of FC Portland and the Seattle Storm to claim the league championship. The only professional soccer in the United States was played inside arenas. The Major Indoor Soccer League existed with clubs from the old NASL still kicking about. The San Diego Sockers beat the Minnesota Strikers in the championship.
By 1989, the United States had added another fledgling league, the American Soccer League. The ASL existed as a mainly East Coast semi-pro league. The ASL played the WSA champions for a national title of sorts, with the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers of the ASL defeating San Diego for the trophy. Incidentally, the Orlando Lions finished with 9 wins and 11 losses, far behind Southeast division leaders the Tampa Bay Rowdies, but at least above Miami.
While soccer had a bigger footprint in 1989, compared to 1986 in the United States, that footprint was muddled in regional leagues with semi-pro status.
If we consider the circularity of last night’s failure, we are reminded that a team of part-timers, college kids, and guys who made their living playing soccer on a carpeted hockey rink were able to conquer the mighty Trinidadians, a feat too impossible all these years later with European based players and a seemingly successful domestic league.
Failures provide opportunities, but US Soccer needs to take them. New leadership is needed, and that includes the Don Garber as the head of MLS.