Posted on March 15, 2012
By Michael Lewis
Some 60 years ago, give or take a few years, whenever the U.S. National Team played an international opponent, the inevitable would occur after a match: the opposition would ask John “Clarkie” Sousa if he wanted to play overseas.
“He was the first player from our squad who was asked: ‘Do you want to come over and play?’ ” Walter Bahr said. “As far as I know, he always said no.”
Souza, who wound up played his entire career in the United States, for club and country, died on Sunday. He was one of the members of the U.S. team that stunned England and the rest of the planet in the 1950 World Cup with a 1-0 victory in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. He was 91.
There was a good reason why Souza was sought after by European and South American club.
“He was as skilled a player as I ever played with or against,” Bahr said.
The passing of Souza left Walter Bahr and Frank Borghi as the two surviving members of that legendary team.
“He was a real gentleman,” Bahr said by telephone from his home near Philadelphia. “He also was a private person and serious about his soccer. and his physical health. Everything he did. If he had a beer or tea, that was a lot. . . . You have to describe him as a class person.”
For the second time in a little more than a month, Bahr was asked to talk about another departed National Team teammate from that legendary team. On Feb. 7, Harry Keough passed away at the age of 84. Now, Clarkie Souza.
Bahr first met Souza in 1947, when the U.S. played during a tournament in Cuba. To put things into perspective, it was a huge occasion when the National Team got together, perhaps for a handful of games a season. There were no such things as two-week training camps prior to a game. Many times players would meet each other for the first time when they boarded a plane or a ship.
Souza and Bahr played together in the 1948 Summer Olympics in London and at the 1950 World Cup. Bahr had a ringside seat, so to speak, to truly appreciate Souza’s abilities because they played on the same side.
Or as Bahr aptly put in in the terms during his playing days: “He played inside left and I played left halfback.”
“John was a very talented player with better ball skills than most of the players I played with or against. He was a dribbler. He liked to hold the ball. He could make things happen. He could dribble into the area and draw people to him.
“John was always able to beat people. He was able to go by people with the ball. And he was a goalscorer. . . . He took a little bit of a beating. I guess the philosophy was if you can’t stop him one way, you can beat him another.”
But sometimes dribblers could be criticized, even by their coaches. Bahr did not recall who told Souza to tone it down a bit, but he certainly remembered the situation.
“Look, this is the way I play,” Bahr said, talking as if Souza was answering his coach. “If you don’t like the way I play, put someone else in.”
More times than not, the coach did not.
But Souza’s dribbling ability certainly came in handy during that 1950 confrontation with England. With the Americans clinging to a 1-0 lead late in the match, Souza gave his teammates a few precious seconds to catch their breaths.
“John, at one point, took the ball at midfield on the left-hand side and he dribbled to the corner flag,” Bahr said. “He took five-10 seconds dribbling the ball by himself. We were all out of gas. Later, Harry Keough said, ‘John gave us a little bit of a breather.’ ”
While Bahr called Souza a gentleman, he remembers one game when he lost it just a bit in one game. Bahr wasn’t totally certain of the opponent, although he believed it was Admira Wacker, an Austrian club team. In those days, the U.S. National Team also played against European club sides. They were not considered full international matches.
“John got up and chased him down the field and into the bleachers,” Bahr said. “He never caught him, but the guy was thrown out of the game and he [Souza] came back to play. I never saw him get that upset.”
Before calling it a phone call, Bahr wanted to debunk one story that National Team mates Clarkie Souza and John Souza were related.
“Most people thought he was a relative of his,” Bahr said. “But that was not true. Their career, however, sort of paralleled each other’s.”
Indeed it did. Both players performed for Ponta Delgada in Fall River, Mass.
Eddie Souza passed away in 1979.
But that’s another story for another time.
Today, the soccer world mourns the passing of another U.S. soccer legend.
Photo: Walter Bahr: “He was the first player from our squad who was asked: ‘Do you want to come over and play? As far as I know, he always said no.” Photo by Michael Lewis
Categories: North America, U.S.A.
Tags: 1948 Summer Olympics, 1950 World Cup, Ed Souza, Harry Keough, John "Clarkie" Souza, Walter Bahr