|ESPN.com: Wayne Drehs Blog||[Print without images]|
PHILADELPHIA -- Walter Bahr has seen plenty in his soccer-filled 83 years of life. But Saturday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Stadium, the eyes of the former U.S. national team captain witnessed something they had never seen before.
A raucous home-field advantage.
|Former U.S. soccer player Walter Bahr attended the U.S. vs. Turkey friendly Saturday in Philadelphia.|
Bahr was one of the 55,407 fans who sang and screamed on a sun-filled Philly afternoon, sending the U.S. men's national team to South Africa for next month's World Cup in style. A 2-1 victory over Turkey didn't hurt either.
Sitting in a suite on the club level, Bahr, who made the 250-mile trip from State College, Pa., for the game, couldn't remember the last time he had watched the U.S. national team in person. He came away amazed.
"They used to say in the 1930s, the cliché was soccer is going to make it in the next five to 10 years," he said. "And then they said that in the '40s, the '50s, the '60s, on and on. But you know what? This is the best chance we've ever had for this sport to grow in our country. Just look out here today. It's amazing."
Bahr is one of four living members of the U.S. squad that stunned England 1-0 in the 1950 World Cup. He is perhaps best known for assisting on Joe Gaetjens' famous "shot heard round the world." On Saturday, he and 1950 teammate Frank Borghi were on hand as guests of U.S. soccer. Bahr and Borghi were honored in a brief ceremony before the game and shook the hands of each U.S. player afterward.
England has not played the U.S. in the World Cup since that shocker, making Bahr and Borghi popular interview figures in recent weeks. It's a role with which they're not particularly comfortable.
Sixty years ago, Haitian immigrant Joe Gaetjens scored the lone goal in one of the most stunning upsets in World Cup history -- a 1-0 U.S. win against England. Gaetjens' feat was largely ignored, and he eventually returned to Haiti.
As the U.S. prepares to again face England in the World Cup, Tom Rinaldi tells Gaetjens' story, shedding light on a man who should have been celebrated, but instead was murdered. Watch
"It was great to meet the guys today. It was nice to be honored. But look, what we did is now ancient history," Bahr said. "It's nice to talk about it, but we don't want to live in it. Our generations are so far apart there shouldn't be any connection other than I'd love for the guys to know their U.S. soccer history and know what happened. But beyond that, again, it's ancient history."
U.S. coach Bob Bradley said during his team's preparations for South Africa that he has made certain his players are aware of their ties to U.S. soccer history.
"It's important that the guys understand the people who have come before them," Bradley said. "And when you talk about soccer moments in the Untied States, that's one of the special ones."
Bahr joined Bradley at Niketown in New York last month when the sports apparel maker debuted the jersey that the team will wear in South Africa. The home and away jerseys feature a thick bold stripe that stretches across the chest, reminiscent of the stripe that Bahr and his teammates wore in 1950.
That stripe was red, though. And on the white U.S. jerseys, the stripe is an off-white.
"I would have rather seen the red stripe than the shadow stripe," he said. "But I understand. They're trying to sell jerseys."
Bahr said England wore navy jerseys that afternoon in 1950, and hasn't worn navy since. What color will the U.S. wear against England on June 12 in South Africa?
"It's taken them 60 years to even get a chance to tie the series," he said. "And even that, it's only a chance. I don't think it will be as easy as they think."