"It seems to us that in the event we didn't qualify for the World Cup, we wouldn't be hosting the World Cup," Caligiuri said. "That gave us an extra incentive."
Going into the final match, Trinidad and Tobago needed only a draw to eliminate the U.S., which needed a win to advance. A couple of nights before the game, Caligiuri said he dreamt of scoring a goal and of goalkeeper Tony Meola posting a shutout in a 1-0 win.
Coming into that year Caligiuri had one international goal and Meola had started one national team game. Yet against tremendous odds, that dream came true and seven months later the underdog Americans got a standing ovation in Rome after a 1-0 loss to Italy.
"We got world respect that day," said Caligiuri, who coaches an Orange County team that plays in the fourth-division National Premier Soccer League. "It's in Rome against Italy at the World Cup. No bigger stage.
"I believe that's the day we were accepted into the global game."
Five days later, the Americans played Austria before a crowd that included a young fan named Alexi Lalas. Four years later Lalas would start four games for the U.S., in the U.S., in the best-attended World Cup of all-time.
"There's no question that that started to open the door and started to expose us to the rest of the world," said Tab Ramos, who set up Caligiuri's iconic goal and went on to make three World Cup rosters. "We're a soccer nation now. And we're expected to qualify."
"But we still have a lot of work to do," added Ramos, U.S. Soccer's youth technical director and U-20 national team coach. "If for some reason this time or next time of two World Cups from now we didn't qualify, it would certainly slow down the process.
"Then everybody would go back to work and continue to do what we're doing to advance the game. That's the way it works."
(c)2017 Los Angeles Times
Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.