Preston Goldfarb had made his triumphant ride into the sunset. The man who built the Birmingham-Southern College men’s soccer program from scratch had retired from leading the Panthers program and had led his final BSC youth camp.
Goldfarb had no plans of making a monthlong trip to Israel in pursuit of a second straight gold medal in the 20th World Maccabiah Games.
“When you’re at the top of the mountain,” he said, “the only place you can go is down.”
But Goldfarb and a virtually new team from the USA made a triumphant return to that mountaintop, adding a 2017 gold medal to the one the Americans won under the veteran coach in 2013. They became the first team to win back-to-back World Maccabiah Games men’s soccer championships in the 80-year history of the event.
Goldfarb had appointed his 2013 assistant coach to succeed him this year. That coach helped with tryouts but then got sick.
“I didn’t want to go back, but I got talked back into it by the chairman,” Goldfarb said. “I got permission from my wife to do it. You’re gone about a month. It was a long time and I’m almost 70 years old now, so it was a hard thing to do.”
The job was hard because he largely did it without an assistant. It was made harder still because he endured pain from hip replacement after a car accident.
“Instead of it being at 40 degrees, it’s sitting at 67 degrees,” Goldfarb said. “We were rear-ended three months after I had the surgery. That moved it, and there’s nothing we can do about it. I dealt with the pain the whole time I was over there.”
The 2017 American team lacked the depth of the 2013 squad. Goldfarb could go only three or four players into his bench.
“We played really without a striker and without a center midfielder,” he said. “We had to adjust our tactics based on that. To go back and do it again – and win it again – was something that was beyond my wildest dreams.”
The 2013 squad was called the Impossible Dream Team because no one thought the U.S. would ever win this tournament. Years before, the Americans had teams with the nation’s best players but still didn’t win.
“We went with a bunch of no-names and we won it,” Goldfarb said. “To go back again – which is harder to do – to me was a great challenge.”
After emerging from the toughest group, the Americans faced Israel’s under-23 national team in the semifinal. They trailed 1-0 at the break, the coach said, “and it could have been four (to zero). The second half we came out and made some changes tactically and we win 2-1.”
The final was a rematch with Great Britain, which edged the USA 1-0 on a last-minute corner kick July 16 at Grossberg National and University Stadium.
Once again, a tactical change made the difference as Goldfarb moved his attacking midfielder to the left wing to attack Britain’s weak link at right fullback.
“The kid rewarded me by scoring three goals and we win 3-0,” said the coach, who also shifted from three defenders to four. “The rest is history, I guess.”
And Goldfarb, who will be inducted to the Jewish Sports Heritage Hall of Fame in April 2018, says his coaching career is now history. As he walked away, tournament organizers asked if he would return to try for a third straight gold medal.
“I am not going back,” he said. “I’ll be almost 75 then. I said there’s no way I’m doing that. I can’t. Physically, I can’t. Mentally, I just can’t. I don’t want to go through that again.”
Goldfarb calls the 2017 title team his Forever Team, the final one he’ll always remember as he leaves coaching.