It’s more than likely that you never saw John “Clarkie” Souza play soccer. Luckily, one of his teammates on the the 1950 United States World Cup team is still around to tell Bigapplesoccer.com the late Fall River native’s tale.
“He was as skilled a player as I ever played with or against,” Walter Bahr said. “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.”
Souza passed away on Sunday in York, Pa. He was 91 years old, and is being celebrated this week as one of the finest players in American soccer history.
He was born into a Portuguese family on July 12, 1920 in Fall River, Mass. Soccer was a popular sport in the immigrant community, so it was only natural that he picked up the game at an early age.
Souza served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and returned to Fall River after the conflict. In the mid to late 1940s, he emerged as a standout performer — first on the national, then on the international level.
His greatest successes at club level came when he was starring for local powerhouse Fall River Ponta Delgada. Although consisting of semi-professionals, it was one of the strongest teams in the country. It captured three-straight National Amateur Cups (From 1946-48), and won the National Challenge Cup (the present-day U.S. Open Cup) in 1947.
He twice represented the United States at the Olympic games (1948 and 1952), but it was at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil that saw him rise to international fame. The U.S. pulled off one of the greatest shocks in World Cup history when it defeated mighty England 1-0.
Souza started all three games the U.S. played in the tournament, and his efforts earned him “All-Star” recognition from journalists. Only one other American player — Claudio Reyna in 2002 — has earned such a distinction.
He returned from Brazil to his country without fanfare, and would continue to play for a few more years. In 1976, Souza and his World Cup teammates were inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
Even though he was one of the greatest players America has ever produced, he did not boast about his on-field exploits. He was proudest of his factory job at Bristol Knitting Mills in Fall River, which helped him provide for his late wife and children.
Photo via AP Photo/File