A New Jersey Soccer Story: FC Kansas City’s Yael Averbuch

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By JACK BELL

photoFew people would describe Yael Averbuch‘s path to a life in soccer as conventional.

Growing up in Montclair, N.J., Averbuch soaked up the atmosphere as one of the daughters of competitive long-distance runners — Paul and Gloria. Early on, by age 9, she knew she wanted to be a professional player. She challenged herself playing on boys’ teams, and then did an unheard of thing … Averbuch decided not to play for her local high school team.

“A lot of people didn’t understand,” Averbuch, 30, said. “I had to explain that I was doing extra training. I think more people were confused about why I was doing that. No one was angry, the players and coach in school all were very nice. There was no bad feeling. Just confusion.”

That was more than 10 years ago, and although a player (male or female) opting out of playing in high school has become a bit more common in the United States, Averbuch’s decision — especially for a girl — did not jibe with conventional wisdom.

“Yael’s decision to forego high school soccer was her own, and her father [Paul Friedman] and I were united in our support,” Gloria Averbuch said. “Shira [Yael’s younger sister] did play high school soccer and enjoyed it immensely, but although Yael was initially ambivalent, she ultimately felt it wasn’t right for her. It was her sport, her destiny, and I respected any decisions she made for herself that didn’t require parents intervening.

Yael Averbuch played 26 time for the U.S. senior women's national team.

Yael Averbuch played 26 times for the U.S. senior women’s national team from 2007-13.

“I think part of the beauty of youth sports like soccer is the ability for young people to develop and exercise these types of decision-making processes. There was ultimately no right or wrong in the decision to play high school soccer, and Yael grew as a person and a player by forging her own path. And it’s been that way all throughout her career.”

She joined her first youth team, the Orange Bullets, at age 7, but by age 11 Averbuch realized that fulfilling her dream of a professional career meant her solo technical training would have to be put to the test against better competition: read boys. From ages 11 to 14 she was the only girl on a boys team.

“Montclair was pretty good in terms of a soccer environment,” she said. “But I was more serious than some other players and I wanted to be challenged. I was in sixth or seventh grade and played up on a boys team made up of seventh and eighth graders. It was socially awkward as heck.”

Still in middle school, Averbuch joined the World Class club, run by the former Columbia University star, Cosmos player and women’s coach at Seton Hall University, Kazbek Tambi. As a freshman in high school, Averbuch was already playing for the club’s U-18 team

“A huge thing for me about growing up Northern New Jersey was that I had coaches, like Ashley Hammond, who spent hours and hours with me, juggling, hitting balls for volleys, striking with both feet on the laces. I was mastering all the skills that we realize now are vital. Before I even left for college [the University of North Carolina] I had had coaches from around the world — England, Ireland, Portugal, Holland, Argentina, Turkey, Peru — and I saw the game from different perspectives. I had an extraordinary soccer education before I left for college.”

In Chapel Hill, Averbuch played on two NCAA Division I women’s championship teams (2006 and 2008), made 105 consecutive starts, had her jersey No. 17 retire, and oh yeah, scored the fastest goal in women’s collegiate soccer history.

In 2007, she earned her first cap for the U.S. women’s national team (after playing at every level for youth national teams) and made 26 appearances over all. In addition to playing professionally in the United States (now with FC Kansas City of the National Women’s Professional Soccer), Averbuch has challenged herself overseas, playing in Sweden (Kopparsberg/Gotberg), Russia (Rossiyanka) and Cyprus (Apollon Ladies).

She called her current situation the “best professional environment” she has experienced. When she’s not training and playing with her club team, Averbuch has forged a vocation for the future in running clinics and launching a technical training subscription-based app, techne football, that provides access to weekly training sessions. “It’s the best version of me without me being there,” she said. Currently, the training sessions are generic, though there is a plan to tailor sessions for individuals and teams.

What began as “fun” at age 7 has evolved to a deep love of the game, the technical game, that has taken Averbuch around the world. And now, the journey only continues.