On Thursday, the U.S. World Cup soccer team can advance to the round of 16 with either a win or tie against Germany. The United States has surpassed expectations; few thought they would escape the so-called “Group of Death” that also included Ghana and Portugal. As stacked as the odds have been against the United States in 2014, it is nothing compared to the odds faced by the U.S. team when Brazil last hosted the World Cup in 1950.
The U.S. team that year consisted entirely of semi-pro players who often held additional jobs- one player missed the tournament because he could not take time off of work. In their second game, they faced England, who were widely considered to be the world’s best team. But when the final whistle blew on June 29, 1950, it was the U.S. who had won, 1-0.
Walter Bahr is one of two surviving members of that 1950 team, and had the assist on the game’s lone goal. He talked to Essential Pittsburgh about the experience.
“It wasn’t anything special,” Bahr said about his shot on goal. “It was just a decent shot that was deflected by Joe Gaetjens into the net...he was always moving in the box and getting himself open, and he just got himself a little space and got a nickel on the ball that was enough to change direction and it turned out to be the winning goal.”
Bahr said that even though soccer was a niche sport in the United States at the time, it was very popular in the Philadelphia neighborhood where he grew up.
“There were a lot of British people in the neighborhood, Scotch-Irish, English. Soccer in that particular neighborhood was the big sport. You could go twenty blocks away and they didn’t have any soccer. A lot of it was from the ethnic groups that came in.”