How Matt Miller Spent His Summer Vacation
Aug. 22, 2005
While many college students spent their summers lounging at the beach, taking classes, or working summer jobs, senior GW men's soccer captain Matt Miller spent his summer vacation doing what he loves to do - play soccer. He didn't compete for just any team this summer though. Miller represented his country as a member of Team USA at the 2005 Maccabiah Games in Israel and helped the United States bring home the silver medal.
Miller and the rest of the U.S. team posted a 5-1 record in the tournament. Team USA's only loss came in the gold-medal match against the host nation Israel. It marked just the second time the United States advanced to the gold-medal game. The only other time the U.S. appeared in the final match came in 1981 when it also claimed the silver medal.
A native of Cincinnati, OH, Miller was one of 18 players selected to Team USA, which featured several talented performers and was coached by San Diego State head coach Lev Kirshner. Among Miller's teammates was Michael Erush of MLS's Chivas USA, Jordan Gruber, who plays professionally in Belgrade, University of Washington star Jordan Katz, and U.S. Under-20 national team player and former UCLA Bruin Benny Feilhaber,
"The talent on the team was amazing," Miller said. "I was overwhelmed. I didn't think I would see a minute of playing time, but I ended up working my way into a starting role and played the majority of every match."
The Maccabiah Games, also known as the International Jewish Olympics, is the second-largest sports festival in the world behind only the Olympic Games. From July 10-21, more than 7,700 athletes from 64 countries came to competed in 34 different sports in the 17th edition of the Games, which were first held in 1932.
Before embarking on his journey to Israel, Miller spent four days getting to know and learning to play with his new teammates at a training camp on Long Island, NY from June 29-July 1. At the conclusion of the camp, the team joined the rest of the U.S. delegation and flew to Israel for the start of competition. However, soccer took a back seat to learning and personal growth as Miller and his teammates spent the majority of their first few days touring the country.
"After arriving we stayed at what would be the equivalent of the Olympic Village for the first four nights," Miller said. "Our days were really long. We would wake up, practice, then hop on a bus and go sight-seeing. We saw just about the whole country in four days."
Some of Miller's sight-seeing trips included the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, and Mount Masada.
From there each of the U.S. teams began its trip to the site of its competition. Miller was bound for Haifa, the host city for the men's soccer open division tournament.
In Haifa, the United States won its first five games in the competition, including shutting out the Netherlands, 2-0, on July 10 and blanking Canada, 5-0, on July 13. The Americans also beat Argentina, 4-1, on July 14 to advance to the quarterfinals then knocked off South Africa, 3-2, on July 17 to earn a berth in the semis. Team USA played Mexico to a tie through 120 minutes in the semifinals and won the ensuing penalty-kick shootout to advance to the gold-medal game versus Israel.
The U.S. played without Feilhaber in the final match. He was suspended for the contest due to the accumulation of yellow cards. His absence contributed to a 2-0 victory for Israel, which was extremely well rested after having played less than half of its semifinal contest versus Brazil because the match was abandoned after a Brazilian player allegedly shoved the referee.
Obviously, it would have been an honor to be a member of the first team to bring Maccabiah gold home to the United States, but it's the bonds that were formed on a trip that was as much about personal growth as it was about competition is what Miller will remember most.
"The group guys that were on the trip were so close," Miller said "We all bonded really quickly. I still keep in touch with all the guys on the team. It was one of the best experiences of my life."