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U.S. Open Cup brings Paul Caligiuri back to his roots in new capacity

A U.S. Soccer legend and former LA Galaxy player, Paul Caligiuri will coach amateur side Orange County FC against his former club in the U.S. Open Cup.

FILE--USA's Paul Caliguiri, left, celebrates with teammate ALexi Lasas after defeating Mexico 1-0, in a World Cup exhibition game on June 4, 1994, in Pasadena, Cailf. (AP Photo/Michael Caulfield, file)

The LA Galaxy enter the U.S. Open Cup in the fourth round Wednesday to face the only remaining amateur side: Orange County FC of the NPSL, coached by U.S. Soccer legend and former LA Galaxy player Paul Caligiuri.

Best known for his goal against Trinidad & Tobago in 1990 that booked a spot in the 1990 World Cup, the USMNT’s first appearance since 1950, Caligiuri now serves as coach for OCFC. His soccer journey, in a sense, comes full circle as he prepares a dedicated group of amateur soccer players to face the LA Galaxy, a club he still deeply cares about.

“It’s interesting that here we are in the U.S. Open Cup and a small club from Irvine, California could make it,” Caligiuri told Pro Soccer USA. “Just making some quiet noise moving on through the ranks, and now they face the Los Angeles Galaxy, a club that I played for and hold passion for in my heart.”

The road to the fourth round was not an easy one for OCFC, who faced one NPSL side, FC Golden State Force, and two USL Championship sides —  a first meeting with local rival Orange County SC and Las Vegas Lights FC, coached by another former U.S. soccer legend in Eric Wynalda.

“Against Las Vegas, it was kind of like a Caligiuri-Wynalda showdown,” Caligiuri explained. “Two former World Cup players. We played on two World Cups together, both from Southern California and we entered the National Soccer Hall of Fame on the same day. A lot of attention was circled around Eric and myself, but yet for my team it wasn’t about us. I don’t think Eric made it about himself, it was about these two teams.”

In defeating Las Vegas, OCFC continue in the U.S. Open Cup tournament as the only remaining NPSL side, granting them a $25,000 prize for being the longest standing amateur side in the tournament. They also secured a meeting with their third professional club in this year’s run, the LA Galaxy.

Ironically, Caligiuri’s last professional match as a player was for the Galaxy in their 2001 U.S. Open Cup final victory over the New England Revolution. He remembers the path to the Galaxy fondly and the growth of the sport to get to where it is now.

As Caligiuri was finishing his high school soccer career, his favorite club was the L.A. Aztecs, but when the North American Soccer League folded, it left him with no professional route in the United States. He opted for UCLA, followed by a stint in Europe to continue living out his dream of playing soccer for a living. Then came “the shot heard ‘round the world,” in Trinidad on Nov. 19, 1989.

“All of us who know soccer know it’s a team sport, and there’s so many people to credit besides just the goal scorers,” Caligiuri said. “But certainly, that game, and without that one shot, that at one goal, which is so ironic, all of this probably would have never happened. We were bankrupt. I mean we were in the red going into that game, and financially soccer was not sustainable. And the soccer federation actually took a loan just to play the game. So, one thing triggered one thing, and here we are.”

That berth into the 1990 World Cup, followed by the U.S. hosting the 1994 World Cup helped ultimate lead to the creation of Major League Soccer.

“My dream came full circle when they finally launched Major League Soccer and the Galaxy was my team,” said Caligiuri. “I’m literally playing out of the Rose Bowl, which felt like my backyard. I got to come home, play professional soccer, see soccer grow in this country, finally come, and now it’s here forever. I mean to see where it’s at today is absolutely amazing for me.”

Major League Soccer holds a big place in Caligiuri’s heart from his playing days, but his focus is not on coaching in the league yet. 

“I would be thrilled to coach at that level,” said Caligiuri. “I do believe that right now, I have the opportunity to inspire these young men to take the field against the Los Angeles Galaxy, and I believe that, with a true performance, that we can inspire many millions of kids to live out their dreams, or adults in the amateur ranks. That’s my focus today, but it’s certainly not out of the question.”

The primary focus of the guy who scored the “shot heard round the world,” is to now shock the foundation of US Soccer again and help Orange County FC beat his beloved LA Galaxy on what no doubt will be an emotional night in Carson. 

“It’s quite interesting how the draw goes, and to face the Los Angeles Galaxy it’s kind of bittersweet,” Caligiuri explained. “I’m here on this end and I’m wearing blue and white. I’m excited for Orange County Football Club, and that’s my commitment to this team. I’m the head coach and manager. I’ll see that through, but at the same time the LA Galaxy is in my heart forever. It’s a club I will always support in my life.”

 

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