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Among the athletes participating in the 20th Maccabiah Games in Israel in July, the U.S. delegation will include a futsal team. Futsal is similar to soccer, but played on a field the size of a basketball court with five players on each side.
Last year, at the Pan American Maccabi Games in Chile, the team came fourth, losing the bronze medal in penalty kicks to the host after a 3-3 draw.
At the 2013 Games, the team included four players from Greater Philadelphia, in addition to Coach Michael Monheit. Practicing in King of Prussia, the current team only has one local: goalkeeper Ethan Clearfield, who played in Chile as well.
The team is trying to raise $10,000 to ease the burden on the players. Monheit said that “for a number of players the competition and experience will not be possible” without this help:
For many of them, it will be their first trip to Israel and it will be a visit that will change their lives. I assure you, this will be the most significant connection in each of their lives so far to their Jewish heritage.
Currently, the team has raised about $2,000. Monheit said that “every dollar counts towards making it possible for these players to be able to join the team.”
Ed Snider, the Philadelphia Flyers founder whose Bullies became the first expansion team to win the Stanley Cup, died Monday after a two-year battle with bladder cancer. He was 83.
Snider was weakened by cancer, the disease that kept him from his beloved Philadelphia Flyers. General manager Ron Hextall went to Snider’s home in California in December before a scouting trip, watching what would be their last Flyers game together on TV. The St. Louis Blues led 3-0 in the second period, souring the mood. [Read more…]
— by Joshua Halickman
The last time Israel made it into a top-level soccer competition was 1970, when it went to the World Cup in Mexico. Now, with an excellent start to the 2016 UEFA European Championship qualification tournament, the expectations are once again high.
One reason for this is that the tournament has now expanded from 16 to 24 countries, allowing some of the smaller nations a chance at Europe’s top competition. The country will stand still when the National Team marches onto the field on Saturday night, March 28 after Shabbat in Haifa for the Wales game, and on Tuesday, March 31 in Jerusalem against Belgium.
As I was walking up to the Kiryat Shemona Municipal Stadium, I saw the beautiful snowcapped Hermon Mountain in the background of this picturesque facility planted right in the middle of a suburban neighborhood, far away from the hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv. This is where the 2014 Israel State Cup champions play and train for their matches against the other sides in Israel’s soccer league, Ligat Ha’Al.
I was waiting for Guy Haimov, one of the three Israel National Team goalkeepers looking to claim the starting position for Israel’s crucial Euro 2016 qualifiers. Suddenly, I saw the figure of a man on a bicycle pulling up into the front area of the stadium. You guessed it: Haimov rides his bike to work each day. “I live close by and it’s good exercise” the 6-ft. goalkeeper said as we met at the main gate.
Israel started their European qualifying campaign by winning all three of its games and sits on top of their group with nine out of nine points. The upcoming match against Wales will feature one of the world’s best and most popular players in Real Madrid’s star Gareth Bale. Belgium is ranked fourth in the FIFA World Rankings and has a collection of greats including Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany.
The stakes are high and the pressure will be immense on those evenings especially for the starting goalkeeper, but Haimov said, “I am not even thinking about that yet.”
As we ventured into the stadium, I got a peek at the team’s modest dressing room. Every player has a stall with his training uniform sitting meticulously folded waiting to be worn in just an hour as coach Barak Bachar’s team prepares for their next match in just a few days. Haimov put on his training jersey and fit his feet snugly into a pair of flip-flops and we made our way out onto the lush green grass and into one of the dugouts.
Sitting on the plastic molded seats we began discussing where we both came from. “Isn’t it dangerous in Jerusalem?” he asked me as I told him that I had traveled more than three hours to watch the previous night’s Israel State Cup match with Maccabi Tel Aviv that ended in a 1-1 tie. I countered, “Isn’t it dangerous here in Kiryat Shemona with what went on recently with Hezbollah by the border?” We both said no, we don’t feel threatened at all, soccer is our escape and savior from the harsh realities that surround Israel and the Middle East.
“I grew up in Holon and both my parents were born in Israel,” Haimov said.
Maccabi Tel Aviv was always my club, beginning when I joined the youth system at five and a half years old. In school I played soccer and I had no idea I would end up being a professional. We just played for fun and to be together with friends; that was the most important thing when I was a youngster. It was much later when I saw that I was good enough to play on the youth Israel National Teams at ages 14-17 when I started seeing myself potentially making it as a soccer player and as a professional.
Being a goalkeeper is not always the most popular position to play, as kids would always want to imitate their heroes, which happened to usually the top scorers in the world. Haimov found out that if he had any chance of playing with his peers, keeper would be the position he would have to try and master:
At 7 years old I realized that I just couldn’t keep up with the other kids. If I wanted to be like my idols Alexander Uvarov, the great Macacbi Tel Aviv shot stopper, Gianluigi Buffon of Juventus, or Iker Casillas at Real Madrid, I would need to change positions. I was lucky my parents didn’t think too much about it perhaps being a dangerous position to play and didn’t have a problem with me being a goalkeeper so off I went.
However, today my parents can’t watch the matches live and will record them to watch later, once they have already heard the result. They will usually go out to the movies while I play and only afterwards sit down to see what transpired in the game.”
Being part of Maccabi Tel Aviv had many advantages for Haimov:
Growing up in the Maccabi youth system offered me the chance to receive the best soccer education both from the top coaches and some of the best players. All of the best kids wanted to go to Maccabi Tel Aviv because they were the biggest club in Israel and they had terrific management.
As Haimov continued to ply his trade under the watchful eye of Maccabi, he finally broke through to the club’s first team and started his first Israel Premier League match against Hapoel Petach Tikva on March 11, 2006 under interim coach, Dutchman Ton Caanen. He would have one more start that season but would end up tearing a ligament in his shoulder which would put him on the shelf for 8 months. However, when he finally came back from injury he was loaned out to Kfar Saba of the second division for a number of years.
Haimov thought that after his spell with Kfar Saba he would be back with the yellow-and-blue as the second choice keeper under former youth coach Ran Ben Shimon, but fate again would place him back into the second league for the 2009-10 season, this time with Hakoach Ramat Gan, under the watchful eye of former Israeli legend Vicky Peretz. After a good season, he finally had his chance to play significant games in the Premier League as up-and-coming club Kiryat Shemona, who now had Ran Ben Shimon as their manager would snag him own loan in 2010-11.
Kiryat Shemona is certainly a long way from the friendly confines of the Tel Aviv area and for someone who grew up in the center of the country, to move up north was something quite unique and definitely different. But soccer is soccer and Haimov had finally earned his chance to spend some serious minutes in goal playing against the best talent Israel offered.
It was also an opportunity to wipe away some grudges as Haimov’s side defeated Maccabi Tel Aviv 4-0 and earned a shutout against his former club. “After that match, Maccabi, which now had manager Motti Ivanir in place of recently fired Avi Nimni, wanted me back and I signed a 3-year contract,” he said.
With Maccabi Tel Aviv for the 2011-12 season, Guy knew he would have a fair chance to play some significant minutes at his childhood club. And minutes he would play where he saw success both on the European stage as well as domestically:
One of the biggest thrills in my career was to beat Greek powerhouse Panathinaikos in the UEFA Europa League at home in Bloomfield Stadium 3-0. As well, I scored a clean sheet against Tel Aviv rivals Hapoel winning 1-0 which was an incredible feeling, especially when I had to be interviewed by Avi Nimni, Maccabi’s former manager who didn’t want me. That gave me incredible satisfaction knowing I was able to show those who doubted me that I could reach the top.
After a good season for the young ‘keeper, Maccabi brought in a new technical director, Jordi Cryuff who made it clear that he would want to bring in a foreigner to play goal in Tel Aviv. Though Cryuff would have been happy to have Haimov as his second choice keeper under new coach Oscar Garcia, he knew he had to play game in and game out:
I understood that it was nothing personal and in order for me to continue to progress I needed playing time. That’s where Ran Ben Shimon came back into the picture again and I joined him in Cyprus on loan once again.
Together with his wife Cindy, who was also raised in Holon, and baby boy Amit (the family has since had another child, Avigail), Haimov moved quickly to find a home on the island country. Just a 40-minute flight from Israel, he started playing for his new team AEK Larnaca and ended up setting the Cyrus all-time shutout streak record manning goal for Ben Shimon:
Going to Cyprus was the best decision that I made and I had no time to think about it as everything happened so fast. There were about 10 other Israeli soccer players in Cyprus at the time and the Rabbi at the local Chabad house made us feel so welcome. The supporters were also extremely kind after they found out what I could do for their club and I didn’t feel one negative sentiment the whole time I was there.
However the Cypriot banks collapsed and Haimov had not received many months of salary, so he went back to Israel even after he had received a number of offers from other teams in Cyprus as well as Greece:
I came back to Maccabi Tel Aviv for the 2013-14 season training camp under new coach Paulo Sousa but I knew I would not begin the year with the club. My agent Gilad Katsav was able to secure a transfer back to Kiryat Shemona as owner Izzy Sheratzky bought my contract and I became the undisputed #1 starter for the team.
Sheratzky is ironically a savvy Tel Aviv businessman who decided to take a small time club in a quiet town and build it into a contender that is able to threaten teams with much larger budgets than theirs.
In his first year back up north, Haimov played in every Israel league match last season where he had a staggering 14 shutouts leading Kiryat Shemona to a third place finish. The team also won the Israel State Cup for the first time in the franchise’s history and had the chance to hoist the trophy after being presented by the outgoing president, Shimon Peres. This year the team is fighting for the legue title, only a few points out of first place, behind Maccabi Tel Aviv.
“I am always active and never rest as I’m always prepared to play in every game. If you relax and take games off you become vulnerable,” the keeper professed.
It’s thanks to Hezy Nachshon & Koby Bitran who coached me when I was young at Maccabi, Ami Genish my goaltending coach at Ramat Gan and now Pini Avraham the Kiryat Shemona keeper coach that have made me the athlete I am today, and gave me the opportunity to play the way I am capable of.
Of course Barak Bachar, my coach and former teammate at Kiryat Shemona, has tremendous confidence in me. When we both played together back a few years ago we used to play Playstation and we ate together on Friday nights. Now that he is coach we have been able to adapt the relationship to be that of player and coach.
Hezy Nachshon knew that Haimov was something special right from the get-go:
I know Guy since he was 13, and after a few practices with the Maccabi Tel Aviv youth program, I saw that he was ahead of the other children playing keeper. I took him on as a personal project where I would work with him prior to the regular practice.
Haimov, a veteran National Team keeper, has only played in one match for his country but has been either the number-two or -three goalkeeper for a few years:
Dudu Aoute had been the starter for so many years and now that he is retired the opportunity is open.
I would love to be able to get a chance to play again for Israel as the only game I did play was a huge disappointment. I had come in for an injured Aoute in the second half of a match in Croatia, but we got a red card early on and I ended giving up three goals as we lost 3-1.
It’s my dream to be able to lead Israel out onto the pitch against Wales and Belgium knowing it’s a responsibility to represent Israel and the Jewish people around the world. I want that second chance.
The competition is stiff with Ofir Marchiano of Ashdod and Ariel Harush of Netanya looking to claim the coveted spot, however both Nachshon and Ami Genish weighed in saying that Haimov without a doubt should be the starting keeper for the National Team. Perhaps the fact that he wears the number 55 for his club team representing double hamsa, will help as well and he will be between the pipes at the end of March.
Very often, the cream of the crop of Israeli players head over to the stronger leagues in Europe to see how they can match up against the best of the best, but for now Kiryat Shemona is Haimov’s home as the 29-year-old has no designs to play outside of Israel again, but as he says you never know. He also understands that the lifespan of a goalkeeper is much longer than that of a regular player and has many years left to give on the field of play so he has not thought much about what will be after his career is over. “I can play until 40 and after that I would like to get my coaching certificate and be a goalkeeper coach or even a head coach,” he said.
Haimov said that in Israel, much needs to be done to help improve the quality of the players being produced in the youth system:
If I was the head of the Israel Football Association I would invest in the youth. From facilities, to the culture and seriousness that we see around the world, this is something that is a must in Israel. You can see the difference in other countries, Israel must put its energies into the youth program and help the many talented players that our country has. This is where we need to build and put our best efforts into.
As we were both looking out onto the gorgeous landscape shimmering in the sun, Haimov had a message to all of Israel’s supporters, friends and the Jewish people around the world:
We should be proud to be Jewish, we should never be afraid to do anything, we should reach for our dreams because G-d is with us and we can rely on G-d for guidance. Come and visit Israel to see the wonderful cities, encounter the people, but most importantly come to the Holy Land and support us.
Who could refuse such an invitation, as the Israel National Team is about to embark on two of their most important matches in the last 45 years?
Barak Yitzhaki against Frankfurt.
— by Amir Shoam
Maccabi Tel Aviv made a big step toward the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 today, beating Eintracht Frankfurt 4-2 in Bloomfield Stadium, Tel Aviv.
With this win, Maccabi is second to Frankfurt in Group F, having previously lost to Frankfurt 0-2, beaten French team Bordeaux 2-1, and drawn 0-0 with Cyprus champion APOEL. After playing twice against each of its group rivals, the top two teams in each group will advance to the next round.
More after the jump.
Europa League, formerly the UEFA Cup, is the second-most important European club competition, consisting of champions of average leagues, and average teams of big leagues, such as Frankfurt, that finished sixth in the German Bundesliga last season.
Israeli midfielder Eran Zahavi scored first in the 14th minute. Two goals by striker Barak Yitzhaki in five minutes enlarged Maccabi’s lead to 3-0 by the 35th minute.
Croatian striker Srdan Lakic scored for Frankfurt in the 63th minute, and German midfielder Alexander Meier brought his team back to 3-2 with a penalty kick four minutes later. In the fourth and last minute of overtime, Zahavi scored a penalty kick of his own to set the final score.
— by Amir Shoam
The U.S. won five medals — four golds and one silver — in the Maccabiah basketball tournaments last week. The open men’s team won the gold after beating Argentina 87-76. Daniel Robin scored 25 points for the winners, and Philadelphia-born Bryan Cohen added 14. The win marked a great year for Head Coach and Former Philadelphia 76ers General Manager Brad Greenberg, who also won the Israeli championship this year with Maccabi Haifa, and will coach Hapoel Jerusalem in the coming season. “It was an outstanding tournament, and our U.S. open team was really special,” he said to the Philadelphia Jewish Voice.
It was an honor to coach some of the finest young men I have ever been around: hard working, unselfish, intelligent and emotionally mature. Lasting friendships were formed, and a love for Israel was enhanced. Next year in Jerusalem — for me it’s true!
More after the jump.
In the open women’s tournament final, the U.S. defeated Israel 72-56. Jacqui Kalin finished with 22 points, including 6 three-pointers, 7 assists and 6 rebounds. Alyssa Baron contributed 16 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists. Next year, Kalin will play professionally in Israel with S.A. Ramat Hasharon. Head Coach Jamie Shadian said:
The Games as a whole were a once in a lifetime experience. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to coach players who are unbelievable people as well as talented athletes. Sharing such an emotional and inspirational month with this team will remain one of the most special experiences of my life.
The under-18 men’s team also beat Israel in the game for the gold medal, 78-62. The two standouts of the final game were Spencer Weisz (19 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists) and Anthony Firkser (19 points, 7 rebounds, 5 steals). Head Coach Jamie Chadwin said:
The trip was tremendous. Not only for the basketball competition but for the cultural, emotional connection we all felt. The young men on the Youth Team were special in the way the competed, learned, and represented their country.
The under-18 women’s team cruised to the gold medal, beating Canada 77-26 (!) in the final game. Tournament MVP Drew Edelman, who will play for the University of Southern California in the coming season, scored 30 points and added 14 rebounds. Shelby Zucker finished with 13 points and 6 rebounds. “I could not be more proud of the team,” said Head Coach Sherry Levin.
Our dominant performance was a product of their hard work, dedication and unselfish team work. On the court it, was amazing to see them come together and execute the game plan against Australia, Canada and Israel. Off the court, we all experienced the wonders of Israel along with the meaningful connections to our heritage, which made the Maccabiah Games a lifetime experience to remember.
The under-16 boys team won the silver medal after losing to Israel in the final. The team was led in scoring throughout the tournament by Spencer Freedman, Corey Sherman and, specifically in the final game, Jacob Orender. Jordan Baum led a long list of assist providers. Sam Fieldman and Michael Hayon were the team’s top rebounders. Orender was also the team’s best defensive player.
“It was an awesome and surreal opportunity to participate in the 19th Maccabiah,” said Head Coach Barry Kleiman. “The opportunity for my wife and me to visit Israel for the first time while representing the USA as a coach was beyond a life’s dream.”
As a competitor, one can never be “happy” with a silver medal, but as a coach of many years and games, one learns that there is always a team at the end of a game with fewer points than the other, and in this case that was our team.
I commend the Israeli team for their fabulous effort and great sportsmanship; their win had nothing to do with luck. I commend our team for refusing to give in and continuing to compete until the final buzzer.
Michael Jordan once said, “I’ve never lost a game, I just ran out of time.” We simply ran out of time that day, and remain grateful for the opportunity we had to compete.
— by Amir Shoam
After winning the rugby sevens tournament last week, the U.S. rugby team for the Maccabiah also won the bronze medal in the rugby 15s tournament after beating Great Britain 15-3 in the game for third place.
With this win, the U.S. once again retained its status as the only team to win a medal in each rugby tournament in the history of the games. Head Coach Shawn Lipmam, who previously won medals as a player in five Maccabiah tournaments, broke the record for medals in Maccabiah open category tournaments, as he has seven now.
More after the jump.
Joel Cohen and Jared Braun scored the game’s two tries (5 points each), and Taylor Howden added one conversion kick (2 points) and one penalty kick (3 points). In the semi-final game, the U.S. lost to Australia 10-18. Israel won the tournament after beating Australia in the final game. The two teams that reached the final are the ones that play as a team year-round. Lipman said:
We built a remarkable team that arrived in Israel as the fittest and strongest we have ever assembled. Even though we had trained individually nothing can compare with playing together as a team and getting consistency in execution under pressure. We think we were good enough to have beaten Australia to make the final, but retain lapses on execution hurt us. The game we played against Great Britain for bronze was amazing and an excellent way for us to end. Israel deserved to win the fifteens tournament, and I think it is a good thing for the tournament that more countries are doing well as the competition is becoming more broad based.
Regarding the sevens tournament, Lipman said:
It was a great accomplishment to have won the gold in sevens, as Israel keeps playing international sevens all the time, and we had only two sevens training sessions. We also had to come back from having lost to Israel and tying South Africa prior to the sevens tournament final game. We showed tremendous heart and courage.
Throughout the games, the team suffered with the absence of the injured Zach Test. The 23-year-old is already the U.S. sevens team’s leading try scorer among active players, with 73.
“I am sure Zack Test would have made a big difference for us, but this is a team sport and one can’t rely on a person,” said Lipman. “Rugby is a squad effort, and nothing would have been accomplished without everyone that came, including our amazing support staff.”
Coach Lipman concludes:
More important than winning medals is the fact that this tour changed our players’ lives in very deep and meaningful ways. Every participant in our team is leaving as part of a band of brothers, and now has a family that will always be there with him for the rest of his life. That is the real gold!
Marlee Ehrlich, Andi Murez, Jacqui Levere and Leah Goldman (left to right) after the 4×200 freestyle relay competition
— by Amir Shoam
The U.S. swim team for the Maccabiah won 67 medals in the open and junior pool categories during the last week.
“The U.S. team was a closely bonded team with great team spirit,” said open team head coach Barry Roffer. “I would say we did an outstanding job at the competition.”
Olympic champion Garrett Weber-Gale, who served as the open team’s co-captain alongside Rebecca Lewinson, won the 50 and 100 meter freestyle categories, and broke the tournament’s record for 50 meter with 22.12 seconds. Andi Murez won the 50, 100 and 200 freestyle categories for women, setting records on all events. Eric Friedland won both 100 and 200 meter breast roles, including a 1:02.73 minutes record in 100 meter.
The U.S. women’s swim team, which included Marlee Ehrlich of Cherry Hill, N.J., broke a Maccabiah record in the 4×200 meter freestyle relay with a time of 8:23:29. Ehrlich also won a silver medal in 400 meter freestyle, and a gold medal in 800 meter freestyle. Today, she also won a bronze medal in the 5-kilometer open water race.
More after the jump.
“My teammates and I were able to bond quickly, which helped lead to a highly successful meet for Team USA,” she said. “Representing the U.S. was an extreme honor, and I know that I am going to cherish the memories I made on this trip.”
The American junior girl swimmers won all individual races but one. Isabelle goldsmith and Morgan Smith were standouts in this division. Judd Howard was the standout in the junior boys’ category.
Team Captain and Tournament MVP Dallen Stanford receiving his two trophies
— by Amir Shoam
It was harder than one might have expected, but the U.S. has won its first gold medal of the 19th Maccabiah games yesterday (Wednesday), after defeating Israel 17-14 in the final of the rugby sevens tournament. The rugby 15s tournament will start tomorrow, but the team will hold its first match of it on Sunday, against Canada (10 a.m. EST, Wingate Institute).
“It was the best Israeli rugby team I have seen in the games,” said Head Coach Shawn Lipman, who previously won medals in them five times as a player, to the Philadelphia Jewish Voice. “The match could have gone either way. We wanted to have the level of challenge that we have prepared for, and now we know that the 15s tournament is going to be hard.”
Tries by Willie Rudman, Team Captain Dallen Stanford (tournament MVP) and Joel Cohen (5 points each), and one successful conversion kick for Standford’s try by Taylor Howden (2 points), provided the team with a promising 17-7 lead. Israel rallied back with a successfully converted try, but the U.S. managed to hold its opponent from scoring any more points.
More after the jump.
On its way to the final, the team had lost the lead in two of its three round-robin stage matches: On its first match, South Africa came back to a 12-12 draw against it after trailing 12-0. On its second match, Israel upset the score, from a 5-0 trailing to a 5-10 win. However, on its last round robin match, the U.S. thrashed Great Britain 35-0 to finish the stage second, after Israel, and win the ticket to the final match against it.
The greatest success story of the tournament, according to Lipman, was Jarett Brotz of Cherry Hill, N.J. After the trials for the team last January, the back-row forward was put on the reserve list. “We saw potential in him, but he needed to work on his fitness,” explained the Coach. As previously-qualified players could not eventually join the trip, Brotz was called to fill in. During the training in Israel, he was chosen as one of the 12 players out of 29 to participate in the seven-a-side tournament. As the tournament progressed he earned increasing playing time, and shined on the defensive side. “He will be one of our most important players in the 15s tournament,” concluded Lipman.
The opening ceremony for the Games will be held today in Jerusalem (1:30 p.m. EST, Teddy Stadium), with almost 9,000 athletes participating and 30,000 expected viewers. Many of the tournaments will start tomorrow (Friday).
Team Captain Dallen Stanford with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat
— by Amir Shoam
The opening ceremony of the 19th Maccabiah Games will be held next Thursday, but one American team wants to be wearing gold medals for it. One of the earliest tournaments of the games will be of rugby sevens, with the U.S. team taking on South Africa, Israel and Great Britain tomorrow (Wednesday) in the Wingate Institute, Netanya. On Friday, the four teams will be joined by Australia, Canada and Chile for an 11-day rugby 15s tournament.
“The U.S. has never sent a rugby team as committed, conditioned or talented as this one to the games,” said Head Coach Shawn Lipman to the Philadelphia Jewish Voice. “We have exceptionally high standards for ourselves, and are absolutely dedicated to coming home with two gold medals.”
More after the jump.
Due to the weather conditions and the high intensity of the 14-minute long sevens game, the tournament will start at 17:20 Israel time, and the final game will be played as late as 22:20. The teams will have to finish the round-robin stage in one of the top two places in order to win a ticket to the final.
The Philadelphia area will be represented in the team by Jarett Brotz from Cherry Hill, N.J.
Jarett Brotz of Cherry Hill, N.J. (Photo: Jewish Community Voice)
The team practicing on a tour of Tel Aviv’s old neighborhoods
And in Jerusalem, even without a ball