Top 50 MLS Cup Moments: #37 End of the Road
|San Jose 2||LA Galaxy 1|
|Did You Know?|
|Paul Caligiuri played for Sigi Schmid in college at UCLA, in MLS with the LA Galaxy and on the international level with the US national team at the 1994 World Cup when Schmid served as an assistant coach.|
#37. End of the Road (2001)
It's the scenario that every player dreams of: closing out a long career at the very top. With a championship.
In 2001, an American soccer legend was hoping to lift his first and only MLS Cup trophy to crown a career that saw him lay the first building blocks of the league nearly a decade earlier.
Paul Caligiuri’s final moments in MLS came on the biggest stage US soccer has to offer: MLS Cup 2001, at Crew Stadium. Although it would result in another agonizing loss for the LA Galaxy — the San Jose Earthquakes won the title on a golden goal — Caligiuri's nearly 15-plus years as a professional came in handy to give him the proper perspective of the moment.
“We lost, yes,” Caligiuri told MLSsoccer.com. “But I was reflecting back moments after the game and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I got to play in the MLS Cup final.’”
Caligiuri’s glittering career meant so much to millions of soccer-loving Americans. His impact on the field allowed American soccer players to be accepted across the globe today and his legacy lives on as Jurgen Klinsmann’s young guns have Caligiuri to thank.
“He was an incredible player,” said his former US national team and Galaxy teammate Alexi Lalas. “And today, when you see guys like Juan Agudelo lighting it up in MLS and with the national team, whether he realizes it or not, he owes a tremendous amount to Paul Caligiuri. I think that ultimately is an even higher honor than an MLS Cup.”
Caligiuri saw his number flashed as part of an 80th-minute substitution at MLS Cup 2001, the player affectionately known by teammates as "Cal," making way for teammate Adam Frye.
“I didn’t need to have that attention, and for people to give me the ovation because it’s my last game,” Caligiuri said. “When I left the field, it was a sense of disappointment because the game wasn’t over yet.”
The then 37-year-old jogged off the field innocuously. But his career on it had been anything but that.
Caligiuri, who played at center back against San Jose, made 110 appearances for the national side and he is currently the sixth-most capped player in US soccer history. In 1989, he entered American soccer lore for scoring the goal dubbed "The Shot heard round the World," which allowed the national team to qualify for its first World Cup appearance since 1950.
It took only three years after his retirement for Caligiuri to get elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
Yet 12 years after scoring that memorable goal, Caligiuri was one of the few Galaxy players to stay out on the field after the final play in 2001. But Canadian Dwayne De Rosario ended the hopes of a trophy send-off with a spectacular game-winning strike in extra time.
“The closure to my soccer career then hit me after I realized the game was over,” Caligiuri said. “There was huge disappointment with the LA Galaxy not winning. Most of the other players went straight down the locker room, but I stayed out there just to acknowledge the champions.”
Caligiuri then made his way to the locker room after brief moments embracing future MLS superstars Landon Donovan and De Rosario. The wily veteran then switched to appreciation mode, going around and thanking each LA player in the locker room for being a part of his success. There were no quiet moments of reflection; instead, Caligiuri tried to pick up others after a devastating loss.
But according to teammates Lalas and Greg Vanney, that’s just the way "Cal" was.
“It was typical of Paul to not only have lost the MLS Cup, but also to have lost your career and he was still going around making everybody else feel good,” Lalas said.
Added Vanney, “I remember him going around to each guy in the locker and having a couple of words with them. A lot of us were tied up in a variety of emotions from the game itself, but he was tied up with emotions of the game and emotions of his career.”
Since his playing days ended, Caligiuri switched his focus to coaching, spending six years as a head coach at Cal Poly Pomona, spending time leading both the men's and women's teams from 2002 to '08.
Caligiuri has also recently been coaching on behalf of the Hawaiian Soccer Federation to try and raise the profile and standard of play there.
He continues to build on a legacy that will always speak louder than the 2001 MLS Cup final or the US Open Cup title he won a week later in his very final match as a pro. But a league championship in 2001 on the field on which he kicked off his MLS career would have been poetic.
“Paul is obviously a legend in terms of US soccer and in what he accomplished with US soccer,” Vanney said. “I was hoping for him to go out on top that day, which would’ve been perfect for Paul given everything he achieved.”