Meet Yael Averbuch, one of the hardest working female soccer players in the world. I had the opportunity to speak with Yael while she was taking a break from her training. At fourteen years old, Averbuch was the youngest player at that time to appear in a W-League match.
Yael attended NCAA soccer powerhouse University of North Carolina. Yael said “I really felt that North Carolina was absolutely without a doubt the place where I would get better as a player. And the place that would push me the most in the aspects of the game that I need to work on.”
During her career as a center midfielder at UNC, Averbuch set a record by starting 105 consecutive games. She also was a two-time Captain, as well as being selected first-team All-Performer in one of the most competitive conferences in the country, the Atlantic Coast Conference. Her contributions off the pitch included frequent volunteering with Chapel Hill area youth. Yael was also an excellent student, earning a 3.71 GPA throughout college. To honor her achievements at UNC, Averbuch’s number was officially retired in 2009.
Yael has appeared for the United States Women’s Soccer Team (consistently the best in the world) sixteen times, netting one goal. In 2007, she was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Averbuch has played professional soccer domestically for Sky Blue FC, New Jersey Lady Stallions and Western New York Flash,as well as internationally in Russia. She is one of two Jewish women to appear for the United States Women’s National Team. Averbuch is currently training to prepare for the upcoming season, which she is planning to continue in Europe. While not training, Yael is a frequent blogger for the New York Times, writing about everything from sports psychology to the Men’s 2012 Euro Championship to playing professionally in Russia. Yael compares her play to Barcelona superstar Xabi Alonso, and says that her favorite player is French legend Zinedine Zidane.
Raphael Gellar: How did you start playing soccer?
Yael Averbuch: My best friend in elementary school played and I went to watch one of her games. The team needed extra players and actually asked me to play but I was too scared and didn’t know a thing about soccer. It looked like fun though, so I signed up for a team the next season.
RG: At what point did you realize you were on a different level from the rest of the girls?
YA: After I played for about a year, I started to realize that the sport came naturally for me and that I could maybe play with older girls. I played a couple seasons on a girls’ team my age and then played up an age group and eventually on a boys’ team for a few years.
RG: How did it feel the first time you put on the WNT jersey?
YA: It was a very meaningful and emotional moment for me. Since I was 9 years old, I wanted to play for the U.S. National Team. I watched those women on tv and worked every day with that goal in mind. So it was a monumental moment in my playing career when I put on the jersey with MY name on the back. I remember not wanting to listen to music or be distracted at all so I could remember everything that happened that day…how it sounded, smelled, everything.
RG: What was it like scoring that goal for the US soccer team?
YA: It is always a wonderful rush to see a ball you struck hit the back of the net. At the moment, I was just in another game, trying to do what I always do. In retrospect, I am extremely proud that I got on the scoreboard representing my country. I hope to have the opportunity to do it many more times!
RG: Theres a clip of you from SportsCenter scoring a goal off of the kickoff. It takes guts to take such a shot. Why did you even attempt that?
YA: The previous game, my coach had been yelling at me to try to shoot from the kickoff because the goalkeeper was way off her line. I didn’t understand what he was saying, though, and played a short pass. After the game he told me to take a look from then on in case I could shoot and catch the goalkeeper off guard. So in that game against Yale, I figured why not give it a try. I didn’t really ever expect to score.
RG: Do you have contact with other Jewish soccer players?
YA: I do have contact with some other Jewish soccer players, but it’s a small group. Whenever there is another Jewish player on any of my teams, we definitely take note of our special bond. It’s nice to see other Jewish players out there doing well and making a name for themselves.
RG: How have you liked blogging for the NYT?
YA: I really enjoy the blogs I write. I try to share my most sincere thoughts, hopes, fears, and observations with my readers and I’ve felt that a lot of people can connect and identify with what I write, which is a wonderful feeling. I always also learn through my writing. It is as much an exploratory learning process to write as it is to read. I hope to keep writing my blog and eventually expand to other writing opportunities.
RG: What was it like playing in Russia?
YA: Playing in Russia was tough. I didn’t know what to expect and wasn’t very well prepared. It did give me great insight into what women’s soccer looks like across Europe, though.
RG: What are your goals for your future?
YA: I want to go back to Europe this fall to play. I’m hoping to do that for a while and represent a top club and then hopefully there will be an opportunity to play in the U.S. I still want to play professionally for as long as I am able. My goals include being part of both a World Cup and Olympic team.
RG: Though there aren’t very many soccer movies out there, which is your favorite one?
YA: Disney’s “The Big Green.”