The goalscoring star of the United States team at the 1934 World Cup, and a soccer hero who developed a parallel career as a successful American football coach.
Donelli was one of the outstanding amateur players in Pittsburgh-area leagues during the 1920s and ’30s, with Morgan-Strasser, Heidelberg and Curry Vets. He joined Morgan, his hometown team, in 1922, while still in his mid-teens, and played for that club until 1928. After switching to Heidelberg, he led that team to the National Amateur Cup title in 1929, scoring five goals in the final. He played for Heidelberg through 1932 before moving to Curry.
Donelli was not picked for the United States team for the inaugural World Cup in 1930, but he was selected in 1934, a rare amateur in a team dominated by pros and semi-pros. The team’s biggest star, Billy Gonsalves, urged officials to include Donelli in the starting lineup, and Donelli made both of them look good when he scored four goals in his first game, a World Cup qualifier aginast Mexico that was played in Rome. The United States’ next game, now that it had qualified for the World Cup proper, was against Italy, and the Americans were sent home in no uncertain terms with a 7-1 defeat. However, the lone American goal was scored by Donelli.
As an amateur, Donelli would have been a natural for the U.S. Olympic soccer team in 1936, but he had retired from the sport by then. He did come out of retirement briefly in 1943 to play for Morgan-Strasser in the U.S. Open Cup final against Brooklyn Hispano at the Polo Grounds in New York.
Donelli briefly coached the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Rams of the National Football League in the 1940s, but he made his greatest mark on that sport as a college coach. He was coach at Duquesne University from 1939 to 1941, Boston University from 1947 to 1956 and Columbia University from 1957 to 1967.
Inducted in 1954.