Meet Paul Caligiuri, Our Guy:
He's 5-foot-11 and 160 pounds. Blue eyes, blond hair. Schooled at UCLA. Appreciates Bill Murray and Robert DeNiro. Be-bops to The Cars and Earl Klugh. Was inspired by "Chariots of Fire." Prefers McDonald's to Burger King, and eats his Chunky soup with a spoon, not a fork.
All of which means nothing except that he's an American. And that, in itself, means everything when you consider that Caligiuri is a teammate of Diego Maradona, most valuable player on Argentina's World Cup-winning soccer team.
On Sunday, when the FIFA/UNICEF World All-Star Game is beamed from the Rose Bowl to millions of television viewers in 65 countries, the world will wonder who in the world Paul Caligiuri is. When the teams first practice on Thursday, so might Maradona, France's Michel Platini, Mexico's Hugo Sanchez, and even his coaches, Mexico's Bora Milutinovic and Argentina's Carlos Bilardo. Until Caligiuri was selected as America's representative, they hadn't heard of him.
The journalists, whose job it is to keep up with such matters, hadn't. At a press conference in Mexico City during the World Cup, Caligiuri was announced as a team member. Minutes later, one foreign journalist took care of what his several hundred colleagues from around the globe were too embarrassed to do.
"Could you please repeat the name of the American?" he said.
To say that Caligiuri got here by winning on Ed McMahon's Star Search might be unfair, however. He is, after all, as promising as any U.S. player. He led UCLA to the national championship last year and finished third in the MVP voting. And as a fullback, he scored the winning goal when the United States beat Trinidad and Tobago, 1-0, in 1986 World Cup qualifying.
But as long as Costa Rica, which eliminated the United States, can look down its nose at American soccer, who's going to take Paul Caligiuri seriously?
He knows he is the only world all-star who's not a world star. The organizer of the game, George Taylor, figured that the host country should at least have one representative. He narrowed the list to Caligiuri and Ricky Davis, the former New York Cosmos midfielder from San Clemente who played in the 1982 World All-Star Game at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
Davis, who now plays for the St. Louis Steamers of the Major Indoor Soccer League, had the experience edge but also the negative rub of being an indoor player. Caligiuri, though, was as much an athlete as Davis, and just as local, having grown up in Diamond Bar.
The selection was based on more than locale and ability, though. Taylor wanted someone presentable, a guy with a nice haircut and firm handshake. In May, they met at a Pasadena restaurant.
"I had never seen Paul Caligiuri," Taylor said. "I just wanted to make sure we were dealing with not only a good player, but someone who at least speaks all right and doesn't have all these crazy ideas.
"I think kids in the U.S. will find him a good role model, and he's very handsome."
With that dubious compliment, Paul Caligiuri became Our Guy, heir apparent to Kyle Rote Jr. and Ricky Davis as America's focal soccer player.
"It's almost like a Walter Mitty story," said Sigi Schmid, his coach at UCLA. "It's something he's always dreamed about. For years, he's been reading in soccer papers from all over the world about these guys. When Paul walks out there (on the Rose Bowl turf) it's going to seem like it's not real. He's going to need someone to pinch him or pour a bucket of water on him."
Caligiuri, though, thinks of himself as more than the token act squeezed between Sting and U2 at an Amnesty International concert. In fact, he is taking this quite seriously. As Our Guy, he not only wants to show well in this game, but eventually pull American soccer out of the slums.
How will a 22-year-old college student do that? Caliguiri's aim is to become one of first Americans to play on a top-level European club team, to do what West Germans Uwe Blab and Detlef Schrempf did in the National Basketball Assn.
After that, Caligiuri hopes that American players will be better received overseas, that the United States will qualify for the 1990 World Cup in Italy, and that eventually the sporting public will support a successor to the North American Soccer League.
Too optimistic? Grandiose? Well, he said, someone has to get the, um, ball rolling.
"I've always been a very serious person toward the sport," Caligiuri said. "I don't speak in frustration, because I get a lot of joy from the sport, but I hope I can make it succeed.
"It seems to me the rest of the world is waiting for the United States, knowing that we have the best athletes in the world, knowing we're powers in every sport, to come out and play this game, this prestige game."