National Soccer Hall of Famer and USMNT player Walter Bahr died on Monday, June 18, 2018. Bahr was a member of the 1950 World Cup squad that beat England 1-0 in Brazil. The members of that team entered the National Soccer Hall of Fame together in 1976, responsible for one of the most famous moments in world soccer. The story eventually became the movie The Game of their Lives. Bahr would play 19 times for the USMNT, but it was his shot deflected into the English goal by teammate Joe Gaetjens that would be his seminal moment in a USA shirt.
Bahr's time with the USMNT started in 1948 where he played in the London Olympics. In what was then a knockout competition, the USMNT lost 9-0 to Italy at Brentford's Griffin Park on August 2. Bahr became a key member of the squad during the 1949 World Cup qualifying campaign. The first World Cup following the end of World War II, the USMNT traveled to Brazil as decided underdogs. Drawn into Group 2 with Spain, England, and Chile, the USMNT lost their opener 3-1 to Spain on June 25. The historic upset of England happened on June 29 in Belo Horizonte. The USMNT exited the tournament following a 5-2 loss to Chile. Bahr played in all three games.
Staying with the USMNT in an era where the team did not play regularly, Bahr was a part of the squad through 1957. That included the failed qualifying campaigns for the 1954 and 1958 World Cups. At club level, Bahr won national titles as a member of the Philadelphia Nationals and Uhrik Truckers. A high school teacher when he started his USMNT career, Bahr would later become a college coach at Temple and Penn State, starting that stage of his career in 1970 and continuing through 1988.
Bahr became a well-known figure in American soccer, attending NSCAA conventions and working to make sure his generation of players received the respect that they'd earned on the field. American soccer was at a different place in his era with professional opportunities at home and abroad few. What Bahr and his teammates built ended up becoming clear during the original soccer boom in the 1970s and the brief success of the original North American Soccer League. It continued through the reestablishment of the USMNT as a World Cup team in 1990. Bahr was part of that as well, traveling with the team.
In an interview with USSoccerPlayers.com's Clemente Lisi in June of 2010, Bahr spoke of his era.
"Many people, including some historians and those in our own Federation, have said what we did was a fluke. It was no fluke," Bahr said. "The English were a very good team. The odds were 500-1 that we would win. We played our hearts out that day. We were better than them that day."
Bahr's passing ends the direct connection American soccer had with a moment that continues to resonate with fans and players. What happened on that field in Belo Horizonte became a touchstone moment for the sport in this country. He raised American soccer players, with all three of his sons playing professionally. He coached generations of players. He volunteered to make the game better. His legacy is clear, demanding more on the field and giving back off of it whenever possible.
The US National Soccer Team Players Association joins with the rest of American soccer in honoring the life of Walter Bahr.
Photo by Howard C Smith - ISIPhotos.com