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Obituary: Nicholas DiOrio / Competed in 1950 World Cup

Sunday, September 14, 2003

By Bill Heltzel, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Nicholas DiOrio, a member of the U.S. soccer team that pulled off one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history, died Friday. He was 82.

Mr. DiOrio, of Bridgeville, died of colon cancer at Sunrise Assisted Living, Green Tree.

Mr. DiOrio, then 29, competed in the 1950 World Cup in Brazil. U.S. soccer in those days was a poor man's sport. Players inherited a love of the game from immigrant parents and drilled and played in their spare time after working regular jobs.

Mr. DiOrio played forward with a ragtag collection of amateurs and semi-professionals. The U.S. team was matched against England in an early round and was given little chance of defeating the powerful Britons.

Late in the first half, Joe Gaetjen of New York scored off a pass from Walter Bahr of Boalsburg, and in the second half the team held off a strong attack and won, 1-0.

"It was perhaps the biggest upset ever in international soccer," according to the National Soccer Hall of Fame Web site.

Mr. DiOrio grew up in Morgan, a coal mining town near Bridgeville in southern Allegheny County.

"The men of that generation played the game because they loved the sport, and it was cheap to play," said Mr. DiOrio's daughter, Diane Rafle, of Edinboro, Erie County, who has researched her father's soccer accomplishments.

He played basketball at South Fayette High School, from where he graduated in 1939, and supposedly scored 50 points in a game. But he was drawn to soccer, and he played for the 1939 Avella Juniors that won the national junior championship.

Mr. DiOrio stood only 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighed 150 pounds, but he was fast, according to his daughter Diane, propelled by massive legs and enormous lung capacity.

She said his trick was developing the weak side. Opponents who expected the right-hander to favor his strong side were left behind when he alternated to the left.

After high school he worked as a laborer at factories in Bridgeville. Later he worked for the county road maintenance department. But for 22 years, he devoted his spare time to soccer.

He played with a series of clubs, like Morgan Strasser, Harmarville Soccer Club, and Beadling. He met his wife, Jennie Battistoni, through the soccer club sponsored by her father's beer garden, Jack's Supper Club, in Cuddy. In the late 1940s he played for the Pittsburgh Indians and Chicago Vikings in the short-lived North American Professional Soccer League.

He played on teams that won state high school championships, the U.S. Open Cup, five National Amateur Cups, 18 Western Pennsylvania championships and several Keystone Senior League championships. He retired as a player in 1959 but continued as a player-manger, a manager, and president of the West Penn Soccer Association.

Mr. DiOrio was named to the National Soccer Hall of Fame, Oneanta, N.Y., in 1974, and to state and regional halls of fame.

Besides his wife, Jennie, and daughter Diane, he is survived by another daughter, Maria DiOrio of Scott; a sister, Stella Symsek of Louisiana; and three grandchildren.

Visitation will be today from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at Bogan-Wolf Funeral Home, 430 Washington Ave., Bridgeville. A funeral will begin at noon tomorrow at St. Agatha Church, Bridgeville.

Memorial contributions may be made to Allegheny Hospice, 4 Allegheny Center, Pittsburgh 15212, or to the Alzheimer's Association, Suite 500, 1 Station Square, Pittsburgh 15219.

Correction/Clarification: (Published Oct. 21, 2003) An obituary in Sept. 14 editions of Nicholas DiOrio, of Bridgeville, a member of the 1950 U.S. soccer team that pulled off one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history, stated incorrectly that John Souza set up the winning goal in that match. In fact, according to Souza, Walter Bahr of Boalsburg, who later became Penn State's soccer coach, made the assist. Bahr confirmed that account and said he took a shot from 25 feet and that Joe Gaetjens redirected the ball into the goal.

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