When it comes to pinpointing the moment that soccer became "mainstream" in America, a shot in the dark is as good as one in the Caribbean daylight. On November 9th, 1989 Paul Caligiuri's winning goal in Trinidad (a.k.a. the shot heard around the world) qualified the USA into the 1990 FIFA World Cup.
However, it should not be mistaken as the beginning of America's great soccer past. It was not so much an explosion as a slow leak that eventually pooled into the masses that now follow the world's game inside the United States.
It was annouced this week that Colorado, the venue for the US National Team's upcoming World Cup Qualifying match, reportedly sold out in ONE hour.
This pennant (above) celebrates the USA rejoining the World Cup Finals after 56 years.
The significance of the 1990 World Cup for America cannot be understated. The last time the USA played a World Cup match in Italy, they lost 7:1 in what was then a one-off qualifying game. From that date the USA was absent from soccer's top showcase for over 50 years !
The squad that would represent America in 1990 would be hailed as pioneers and heroes. Albiet the return to Rome was not spectacular, great stride would be made even in its 1:0 loss to the hosts at Italia '90.
Marcelo Balboa (far left) and company were unlucky not to pull off an upset over hosts Italy.
The Management and organization of US Soccer improved predominantly with tune-up friendlies like the MARLBORO CUP where the inexperienced Yanks were tested against fellow qualifiers Uruguay, Colombia, South Korea and the Soviet Union and club giants Juventus, Benfica and Flamengo.
The 1990 World Cup jersey of Marcelo Balboa (above and below)
Among those heroic players which included Eric Wynalda, Kasey Keller, John Harkes, Tab Ramos and Peter Vermes was Marcelo Balboa who made 128 appearences for the USA. He was the first American to earn 100 caps.
The FIFA World Cup ticket from Italy.
Domesticly, Balboa won a league title with the San Francisco Bay Blackhawks. He would win another league championship with the Colorado Foxes before moving on to Leon in Mexico.
The 1990 Panini World Cup sticker of Marcelo Balboa.
Marcelo and his teammates would be the first US National Team players to appear on a licensed soccer product (see above) when they were included in the 1990 Panini sticker set.
Marcelo Balboa's Colorado Rapids MLS jersey.
Marcelo Balboa would return to Colorado for the inaugural season of Major League Soccer. Under his leadership, the Rapids made it to the 1997 MLS Cup Final. He was elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2005.