On June 18, American Soccer lost one of its legendary figures when Walter Bahr passed away in Boalsburg, Pa. from complications related to a broken hip. He was 91.
Bahr’s most famous moment came during the 1950 World Cup when he provided the assist on Joe Gaetjens’ goal that led the United States3 to one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history when they defeated England. Bahr made 19 appearances for the United States national team, and also appeared in the 1948 Olympics for the U.S. While Bahr was perhaps more noted for his Olympic and National team appearances, his US Open Cup and American Soccer League (ASL) pedigree is just as impressive which is why his induction into the National Soccer Hall of Fame was such an easy decision.
Bahr led Northeast High School to an undefeated season and a Public League championship in 1943 which got the attention of the Philadelphia Nationals of the American Soccer League. At the age of 17, he signed with the Nationals and also played three seasons of college soccer at Temple University where he was an All-American.
Bahr made his US Open Cup debut on March 25, 1945 at the age of 18 in the Philadelphia Nationals’ 6-1 win over Hosiery Local, an amateur club from Philadelphia. Once Walter became a regular in the Nationals’ lineup, their Open Cup success grew. Bahr made two appearances in Open Cup Finals with the Nationals in 1949 and 1952.
In the first leg of the 1949 Final, Bahr assisted on Nick Kropfelder’s 35th minute goal in the Nationals’ 1-0 win over Morgan Strasser of Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, Bahr would not lift the trophy that year as Morgan Strasser rebounded with a 4-2 second leg win and won the title 4-3 on aggregate. In 1952, Bahr started both legs of the Final for the Nationals, helping Philadelphia take a 4-3 lead into the second leg back home. Again Bahr and the Nationals would fall short as the Harmarville Hurricanes won 2-1 to force extra time and score two goals to lift the trophy 7-5 on aggregate.
In 1950 and 1951, the club reached the Eastern Final (National Semifinals) and they made it to the Quarterfinals in 1953.
While with the Nationals, Bahr helped the club win four ASL championships in five seasons, from 1949-1951 and again in 1953.
After the Nationals folded after four games in 1953-54 season, Bahr moved to New York to play for Brookhattan. The Brooklyn club fell one point shy of the ASL title, and were eliminated from the Open Cup in the First Round that year.
The following year, Bahr returned to Philadelphia to join the Nationals’ old cross-town rivals, Uhrik Truckers, who were formerly named the Philadelphia Americans. Bahr continued his success picked up his Open Cup success where he left off the last time he was in Philly, reaching the Eastern Final in 1955 (vs. Eintracht of the German American Soccer League) and the Quarterfinals in 1956 (vs. Harmarville of Western Pennsylvania). Both times the Truckers lost to the eventual Open Cup champions.
The Truckers luck ran out in 1958, losing to the amateur Ukrainian American SC in the preliminary rounds. Bahr rounded out his ASL title count at six, winning two more with the Truckers in 1955 and 1956. Bahr went back to New York for a brief spell to play for Eintracht SC of the German American Soccer League before putting an end to his professional playing career to turn to coaching.
During Bahr’s time playing in Philadelphia he began coaching at Frankfort High School, a position he held for 15 years before moving on to take charge of the Swarthmore College freshman team. In August of 1963 was has brought on as the manager of the Ukrainian Nationals, and after a few successful years with the Ukes, Bahr moved on to the ASL’s Philadelphia Spartans in 1969.
After one season, he switched to coach his alma mater at Temple where he was in charge of the Owls program from 1971-74. He left North Broad Street for Happy Valley where he was hired as the head coach at Penn State and remained there for 14 years. During his time in charge of the Nittany Lions, he led the program to 12 NCAA tournament appearances and was named the NSCAA National Coach of the Year after leading Penn State to the National Semifinals in 1979.
Bahr, along with the entire 1950 World Cup team, was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1976. At the time of his death, he was the last surviving member of that historic team.
Bahr had three sons and a daughter. Chris and Matt played under their father at Penn State, while Casey attended Navy during the late 1960s, and all three played in the North American Soccer League for brief periods. Casey and Chris were also part of the United German Hungarian team that reached the 1977 US Open Cup Final against Maccabee AC of Los Angeles. Remarkably, Chris was playing for UGH during the summer in 1977 while also a kicker for the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals. Matt and Chris both had long and successful NFL careers, each playing on Super Bowl winning teams twice. His daughter Davies Ann Desiderio was also an elite athlete as she was an all-american gymnast at Penn State.