We are each on our road to where we are meant to be and US Women’s National Team midfielder Yael Averbuch examines the way closer than most, and just like one of her favourite song’s lyrics she is in the arms of the angel when it comes to the game she loves.
This is the Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC player’s second year in Sweden and she continues to find solace in an approach to football and life that is somewhat different to back home. For someone who has represented the US all the way up through the youth levels to the senior team, as well as taking on the demands of college competition and Women’s Professional Soccer, Yael is well-versed in scrutiny and pressure. As a top-level athlete this is always to be expected but she has noted with reference to Sarah McLachlan’s song ‘Angel’ how finding those moments of ‘beautiful release’ are what she continually craves.
In such times, clarity is found and the complications that so often populate our thoughts are lifted, if only temporarily. Yael, who was raised in Upper Montclair, New Jersey, is given this release from the game she has committed so much of her life to since childhood and she finds music a more than worthy companion.
“Music is something that holds a lot of meaning for me in terms of the memories associated with certain songs and meaningful lyrics that move me or make me laugh. I love how music can make me feel sentimental, sad, or energetic all in a split second of hearing a song.
“I really love a big mix of musical styles, depending on my mood. My favourite artists span a lot of genres and include the Goo Goo Dolls, Matchbox Twenty, Pink, Rascal Flatts, Lil Wayne, Fall Out Boy, The Fray, and Augustana.
“I enjoy acoustic, techno, especially from the late 90s, and rap, but there are songs from every genre that I love.”
While with Western New York Flash, Yael won the 2011 WPS Championship and in the final scored the decisive penalty in the 5-4 shootout victory over Philadelphia Independence before Ashlyn Harris’ crucial save. One of her fellow shootout scorers that day was legend Marta but it is another of the Brazilians she has taken to the field with who she recalls for memorable sound choices before kick-off.
“When I played with the Brazilian, Rosana, at Sky Blue FC, she would take over the pre-game music sometimes with some Brazilian dance songs. Depending on what team I’m on, the music in the locker room varies a bit.
“Right now, playing in Sweden, we have a mix of some pop/r&b songs mixed in with some Swedish artists or songs that are new to me. I find that after a season there are usually a few songs that take me right back to that locker room and group of people because they become routine locker room songs.
“Some people choose to listen to their own music in headphones but I feel that listening to the same songs as everyone before the game just gets you all on the same page and in the same mood without having to say a word.”
Yael’s senior debut for her country was against England in the Four Nations Tournament in China in 2007, which the US were victorious in. Her first goal came en route to 2011 World Cup qualification in the CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup against Costa Rica in November 2010. It was a 4-0 win for the team in Cancún and Yael has this year won her first caps since January 2011 under new coach Tom Sermanni.
There is a lot of intensity that comes with being part of the side ranked number one in the world but there are lighter moments along the way. Yael describes watching world footballing great and former French midfielder Zinedine Zidane as like listening to Mozart and this link between football and music can also be seen with the US team and how they prepare and celebrate.
“Music always creates memories within the team. I remember that when I got my first cap the locker room song that was played every game was Snow Patrol ‘Chasing Cars’, and a pre-game locker room experience is never complete without HAO’s (Heather O’Reilly) rendition of Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself’.”
26-year-old Yael was a Svenska Cupen (Swedish Cup) winner with Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC in 2012 and the second half of the 2013 season is now underway. The support for the women’s game in Sweden was typically outstanding in the recent Euro 2013 tournament and the national league, the Damallsvenskan, is 13 games into its latest campaign. Göteborg finished 4th last season but are currently in 3rd, four points behind LdB FC Malmö and holders Tyresö (top on goal difference).
This weekend saw Yael and her teammates close the gap on the top two with a 1-0 win away to Mallbackens IF. Leaders Tyresö are one of the teams to have dropped points at this venue but Olivia Schough’s goal gave Göteborg all three points. 22-year-old Schough has a separate talent and Yael describes it amongst the most memorable of her career colleagues’ music tastes.
“Well, Rosana from Brazil was definitely one of them, I actually have a couple songs she suggested to me that I still listen to. Because I went to college in the South (North Carolina), some of my teammates there really liked country music, which I hadn’t listened to much before then.
“One of my current teammates and member of the Swedish National Team, Olivia Schough, sings herself and has produced some songs with her sisters, so she is always singing either her own songs or sometimes Swedish songs I have never heard before, which is really cool.”
The youngest player in the W-League at 14 with New Jersey Lady Stallions, Yael took that notion of being successful against the odds in 2009. She was with Sky Blue FC when they overcame struggles such as managerial upheaval to finish 4th in the WPS and defeat each team in the play-offs who had finished above them in the regular season. The championship was won after a 1-0 victory over Los Angeles Sol in the final and her time with the team also included getting serenaded while travelling.
“One of my teammates on Sky Blue FC, Shannon Myers, would play the guitar and sing for us on bus trips. Her rendition of Colbie Caillat’s ‘Magic’ made me fall in love with that song.
“Also, back in the day with the Under-19 National Team, Megan Rapinoe played the guitar while our entire team sang Green Day ‘(Good Riddance) Time Of Your Life’. It sounded much better when just Pinoe was singing but still a memorable performance.”
Seattle Reign and US midfield star Megan Rapinoe is one of the past interviewees on this site and so too is England international and Yael’s Göteborg teammate Anita Asante. As mentioned, Yael’s first appearance in national colours at the top level was against England and her first records ever bought also had the English seal on them.
“I think I must have been around 11 or 12 and I bought two records because they had songs I love from the indoor facility where I used to play. One was the Mel C single ‘I Turn to You’ and the other was Dido’s album ‘No Angel’.”
A National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and Museum inductee, Yael’s sister Shira also plays soccer and recently won Gold for the US at the Maccabiah Games in Israel as captain. Besides the love for coffee shops she shares with the likes of Anita Asante and fellow American at Göteborg, Camille Levin, Yael also writes a blog for the New York Times. As well as areas such as coaching, this allows her to uncover various dimensions to herself each time she writes. Singing for teammates can be quite popular in the game so has Yael ever stepped forward to grasp this challenge?
“I have never had to do that and I am hoping and praying I never do! I am really bad, but if I had to sing something I would prefer to rap!
“One time on a bet I learned the lyrics to Busta Rhymes ‘H.A.M. Remix.’ That is more my thing than singing.”
At the University of North Carolina, Yael scored the fastest goal in women’s college soccer history when netting from the kick-off with the ball hitting the target against Yale after just four seconds. Her college jersey was retired by UNC in 2009 meaning she had not only fulfilled her ambition of attending the university but also surpassed it in a sense. Despite her achievements and the gratitude she expresses regularly, she has talked about the uncertainty that being a footballer brings.
By her own admission, there has been a journey of self-discovery since she was preparing for the Algarve Cup with the national side in 2010 and being amongst the Swedish way of thinking has contributed to a large extent since last year. Yael believes in treating her evaluation of her performances as she would her teammates’, which includes not dwelling on disappointment, instead focusing on being better next time rather than being hypercritical.
Yael scored seven in 2012 for Göteborg and was a Supercupen winner earlier this year as they edged past Tyresö on penalties. Although success in terms of silverware is a goal of anyone who plays the game, there is not an overwhelming pressure or expectation on Göteborg to win the title. Due to this, Yael has been invigorated by the way they are able to put forth their best efforts.
“I really like our team’s approach to the game. We are not so concerned with what anybody else is doing and never make drastic changes after a below average performance.
“There is just a big level of trust and faith in what we do, what the team has been doing for years before I got here, and that if we do it consistently and enjoy it, success will come. Sometimes I find myself getting anxious, because I’m used to a culture where we are always tweaking things, trying to find a better and more efficient way to do it.
“But there’s something to be said about just playing with no stress and sticking to the style you believe in.”
Many of the interviews on this site are with female players and consequently the women’s game is an area I have a vested interest in. With my perspective of the game in England, I see ever-growing support and interest but also ignorance that remains from certain people. My belief on why this is surrounds preconceived ideas on women’s football without the willingness to take the time to properly observe and appreciate it. I also think those who are dismissive hold it up against the men’s game and expect that it should be to the same standard with no understanding of the different dynamics, characters, levels of funding and support, and parity in women’s football. I wanted to know Yael’s thoughts on these points.
“I think that the women’s game has come on leaps and bounds in the last five or so years, especially in Europe. People should realise that it is not the men’s game and never will be.
“That being said, the level of technique and tactical sophistication continues to improve and it can be very enjoyable to watch, especially if you start to learn about and appreciate the individual players. The women’s game, even at its best, will have a different look and flow compared to a men’s game.
“But there are still spectacular things that happen on the field if you truly appreciate the game of football!”
It is rare for any sporting career to be smooth sailing from the start and to its conclusion but it is the response you can show to any setbacks that characterises it. Yael played two Champions League quarter-finals against Turbine Potsdam of Germany in a brief and testing spell with WFC Rossiyanka of Russia but eventually found the move with Göteborg that would harness all the best aspects of her as an athlete and individual. It brings it all back to those Sarah McLachlan lyrics and just as that idea of ‘beautiful release’ speaks to Yael, so too do a couple of other excerpts from songs.
“I love The Beatles’ lyric ‘there’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be’ from the song ‘All You Need Is Love’. Also, this is a bit cheesy, but the lyric, ‘forever can never be long enough for me to feel like I’ve had long enough with you’ from the Train song ‘Marry Me’.
“I am really big on lyrics like this that either make me think or express a feeling in life in a way that I think is really beautiful and pinpoints how I feel in a certain moment. There are also a group of techno songs that remind me of the indoor soccer facility where I grew up playing, which hold huge significance with me and always make me happy.”
Yael regularly posts skill challenges on YouTube for people to have a go at and send to her and that interaction in a positive way is one of the best parts of being a recognised player. Besides recent highlights such as coming on for the US the night Abby Wambach broke Mia Hamm’s international scoring record, Yael has outlined her appreciation for the simple things and also how even those who are called upon to be in optimum physical condition can be vulnerable. There are many observations she makes that can provoke thought and discussion and maybe this will too. To finish, what I need from Yael is a choice of her four best career teammates who she would have alongside her in a 5-a-side line-up.
“Hardest question yet! My goalkeeper would be my current team’s goalkeeper, Kristin Hammarström.
“She is phenomenal at saving breakaways and her distribution is the best of any female goalkeeper I’ve played with, which is important in 5-a-side. Whitney Engen would be my defender because I rely on her to make up for all the mistakes I’d make defensively and to be our team’s vocal leader.
“The other midfielder would be Anita Asante. Do I even need a reason for this one?!
“My striker would be Lindsey Tarpley. She is currently coming back from injury and also has a child now, but she is one of my favourite players of all time to play with and would surely score us tons of goals.”