THE United States open men’s soccer team, including Rock Canyon High School graduate and goalie Jacob Lissek, proudly represented the red, white and blue in Israel at the 19th World Maccabiah Games. In nail-biting fashion, the team defeated Argentina to win the gold medal for the first time.
Lissek and the team arrived in Israel on July 7 for training camp, 10 days prior to the start of competition. A team of athletes, aged 18-35, from all across the country, this was the first time the teammates met one another.
The soccer tournament started with group play. Seventeen teams were divided among four groups.
Uruguay was the U.S.’s first opponent. To much dismay, the team was shut out, 1-0.
“It was a major turning point because up until then, we had a couple scrimmages and had been beating teams pretty easily,” said Lissek.
The loss “was a real wake-up call for us. We came into [the tournament] downplaying the competition. Our heads were in the gold medal game already and we figured we were a shoe in to get there. Our coach [Preston Goldfarb] said [the loss] was the best thing that happened to us.”
Two days later, with an altered formation and Lissek in the goal, the team defeated Denmark 5-0.
To finish out group play, the team had to beat Mexico in order to move on to the quarter finals. The game was tied 2-2 with five minutes left. From far down the field, one of Lissek’s teammates scored the winning goal to give the Americans the 3-2 victory.
Germany was the team’s opponent in the quarter finals. For the second time, Lissek successfully blocked every shot and the team won 7-0.
Lissek said “we started hitting our stride” at this point in the tournament.
In the semifinals, Team U.S.A. squared off against Canada. For the third time, the team shut out its opponent, this time by a score of 5-0.
Finally, the championship game. Against Argentina, the favorite.
After 90 minutes of regulation, the game was deadlocked, 2-2. During the two 15 minute extra-time periods, no shots were converted to goals. Penalty kicks ensued.
Lissek was in the goal, ready to block any shot. With the help of last year’s college season experience, he prevented two of five goals.
“If I try to focus on the whole shoot out, it’s a daunting task, facing five guys from 12 yards out. If I focus on only one guy at a time, then it becomes a lot easier and I don’t worry about previous [shots].”
In the most exciting way possible, the Americans triumphed over the Argentineans, 4-3. The winning penalty kick was scored by the only returning open team member and team captain, Scott Rowling.
After a 76-year dry spell — the entire existence of the World Maccabiah Games in Israel — the men’s soccer team finally won the gold medal.
“OUR coach said before the game, ‘It’s not often that you get a chance to do something no one has done before.’
“To take that away — the first soccer team on the men’s side to win gold — that’s something that no matter how many times [the US] wins gold in the future, we will always be the first. That’s pretty cool to think about.”
Had it not been for Seth Roland, Lissek’s soccer coach at Fairleigh Dickinson University and 2009 Maccabi coach, Lissek wouldn’t have thought about participating. He’s very thankful he was able to represent America in the Jewish homeland.
“It exceeded my expectations, not only with soccer but with touring,” said Lissek.
Being in Israel was “awe-inspiring. I got a deeper connection than I thought I would.”
On the soccer pitch, “to look around and have everybody be Jewish was special to see. It’s not often, or ever, that that happens.”
Lissek found it very interesting that countries one wouldn’t expect to have a strong Jewish soccer team, do.
“Most of them have been playing together on a club team. They don’t have big tryouts like we have. It was very cool to know that there are Jews all over the world playing soccer at competitive levels.”
Lissek, son of Dan and Ellyn Lissek of Highlands Ranch, is now preparing for his senior year of soccer.
He will play against two of his Maccabi teammates when Fairleigh Dickinson faces Northwestern. After graduation, he hopes to play professional soccer or coach.
“I have a real passion for the sport. I’m a director of a youth goalkeeping club [in New Jersey], and in Denver, I coach and ref. [My dad and I] always watch soccer on TV.
“It’s such a wonderful part of my life.”
Copyright © 2013 by the Intermountain Jewish News