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The USA's Paul Caligiuri, left, engages Strike Squad player Russell Latapy in an Italia 1990 World Cup qualifying match at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Trinidad and Tobago on Sunday, November 19th 1989. It was Caligiuri's 28-yard shot that secured a 1-0 victory and the US' qualification to the World Cup. AP PHOTO - Mark Lennihan

The Soca Warriors have had a storied history and rivalry with the US which spans just over 40 years.

As the two teams engage in their 2023/24 Concacaf Nations League (CNL) home-and-away quarter-final tie, members of both camps reflected on the rivalry between the two nations and their most famous meeting which occurred 34 years ago.

On November 19, 1989, T&T's football team, then dubbed the Strike Squad, played the US in an Italia 1990 World Cup qualifier with a maiden qualification on the fingertips of coach Everald "Gally" Cummings' team. All that was needed was a point for T&T to qualify for the world cup.

Playing before an over-capacity crowd at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Mucurapo, the visiting US team stunned the hosts and the sea of red as a lone long-range item by Paul Caligiuri beat goalkeeper Michael Maurice and sent the US to the World Cup – ending a 40-year drought at the global event.

As the Strike Squad look to honour "Gally" on Saturday as they mark the 34th anniversary of the match, Newsday caught up with Hutson "Barber" Charles, a former T&T senior team coach and one of the forwards from the Strike Squad team.

"When the anniversary of the game in 1989 comes around, we still reflect on it. But in terms of feelings any type of way, those feelings have long passed," Charles said.

He admitted that "overconfidence" crept into the Strike Squad camp on that fateful day in 1989, as T&T needed the solitary point to advance to the World Cup. Still, it was the confidence and unison within the squad which endeared the team to the public and sent the local fan base into Italia 1990 hysteria.

"Back then, we always felt confident playing against the US. We always felt we could compete with them. The whole mindset of the players was different then. We went out with a mindset that we could run, compete and beat anybody."

At the start of the 1990 World Cup qualifying campaign in May 1989, Charles was on the end of a flowing T&T move which resulted in a sweet equalising goal in the latter stages of a 1-1 draw against the US in Torrance, California. Thirty-four years on, Charles says there has been a clear change in the landscape of the rivalry between the teams.

"From that time to now, it has always been a fierce battle between the US and T&T. (They are) not a team to take lightly and when they get on top of us they want to stay on top and maintain that dominance. The last couple of results were not favourable to us.

"What the US have done with their organisation and the financial backing for their football, we have a little while to catch up with them. The resources which are available to them, they have gone leaps and bounds past us."

In 29 total matches between the teams, which date back to March 1982, the US have won a whopping 21 compared to T&T's four. There have been four draws. In the last three meetings, the US, who are ranked 11th in the world by Fifa, have outscored T&T by a 19-0 margin. The US won by identical 6-0 score lines at the 2019 and 2023 Concacaf Gold Cup tournaments, while they also beat T&T 7-0 in a friendly in 2021.

In a Russia 2018 World Cup qualifier at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva in October 2017, T&T got their own famous win over the US, with a long-range rocket by defender Alvin Jones securing a 2-1 win for the Soca Warriors who were then coached by Germany 2006 World Cup hero Dennis Lawrence.

Jones' goal in Couva did not quite cause the frenzy and pandemonium which was stirred up by Lawrence's game-winning header against Bahrain in a World Cup play-off on November 16, 2005. However, it is etched in the memory of football fans, as it was a goal which ended the US' streak of appearing at seven consecutive World Cups – a run which started with Italia 1990.

Both Charles and current T&T coach Angus Eve say it is a wound which is still fairly fresh for the US.

"To make matters worse, when Alvin Jones scored the winner at the Ato Boldon Stadium in the 2018 World Cup qualifier, the rivalry intensified. It denied (the US) a place in the World Cup so I think they will always have that 2017 game in the back of their minds every time they play T&T," Charles said.

In a training session leading up to the Soca Warriors' CNL first leg away to the US in Austin, Texas on Thursday night, Eve said, "(The head-to-head is) very lopsided on the US' side, (but) it is still a rivalry because they are sore about what happened to them in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers. They don't want to relive that."

Charles hopes the current crop of players can deliver another big blow for T&T in the duel between the nations.

"It will be a nice atmosphere on Monday for the return leg and I am hoping a lot of people come out to the (Hasely Crawford) stadium to witness the game. We need to give the guys the extra push and you never know what could happen with home advantage."

On Wednesday, as the reigning CNL champions US prepared for the first of two meetings with T&T in five days, Caligiuri was invited to the team camp by coach Gregg Berhalter, who wants his team to pay homage to a stalwart of US football.

"We would not have been here in this same state if it was not for us qualifying for (the 1990) World Cup, if it was not for (Caligiuri's) goal," Berhalter said, in an article published by the Associated Press. "I thought of no better way on the anniversary of the goal and actually playing T&T to honour one of our ex-team-mates and really pay tribute to his contribution to US soccer."

From 8pm at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on Monday, T&T's footballers will look to make their own contributions as coach Eve and his charges try to close in on a spot in the CNL semi-finals and Copa America 2024.

SOURCE: T&T Newsday