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Thursday Q&A: FC Kansas City defender Yael Averbuch

Yael Averbuch, native East Coaster, has found a home away from home in Kansas City over the last few years. (photo copyright Katie Cahalin for The Equalizer)

Yael Averbuch, native East Coaster, has found a home away from home in Kansas City over the last few years. (photo copyright Katie Cahalin for The Equalizer)

New Jersey native Yael Averbuch entered her third season in Kansas City as a team veteran. One major change this year, her position. The recent attacking mid-converted to-center back has been a mainstay for the Blues’ back line this season as she lines up right next to world-renown defender Becky Sauerbrunn and helps hold down one of the stingiest defenses in the league right now. I chatted with Yael Averbuch on her transition to the back line, how and why she began playing soccer in the first place, and her recent endeavor into the technology world with the development of her training app, Techne Futbol.

HK: You guys (FC Kansas City) have put in two solid performances in back to back weekends. Can you talk about that as well as the mindset this week as you prepare to face first place North Carolina on Saturday?

Yael Averbuch: It’s always hard when you’re playing the same team back to back. We had talked about how it was really important for us to get that first win on the road, so our confidence was up after that but, it’s so hard to be focused and disciplined and make sure you get the second three points against the same team because often that same team is out for revenge and has that bit of extra motivation. We were really aware of that and the team, despite results, are continually improving and trying to focus a lot on the process at chipping away each and every game, so it’s cool to see the things we are working on in training starting to pay off. I think you’ll see more and more as the season goes that we are continuing to click and a lot of our work in training will continue to come through in our games.

HK: Personally, how has this season been for you so far? You’ve made an impressive transition from being a midfielder in a position that was very much so attacking in that No. 10 role to now playing alongside Becky Sauerbrunn at center back.

YA: This was really the first season where I came in and I knew I was going to be a center back. Although it’s hard to train in the off season as a center back without playing games, even in pick up I was focused on the things that I needed to do physically, mentally, and technically to be prepared for this role. And then obviously, the job is made a lot easier when you are playing next to Becky Sauerbrunn. It’s not only comforting, but a great learning experience to play next to her. Coming in, I actually had an injury in preseason which was unfortunate, but was my first real injury of my professional career, so I was not feeling 100% leading into the first game. But, I will continue to feel better physically as we go and obviously as I said, there’s no one better to play next to than Becky. Whether it’s her covering things up seamlessly or continuing to learn from her by watching how she does things, seeing what’s effective, and trying to add that to my game–it makes it really fun.

HK: Are you able to take the skills you’ve used previously in the midfield, whether it be decision making, play making, distribution, etc. into this center back role?

YA: Absolutely. The way our team plays is that we play out from the back and we like to build the play up. I think anyone who watches would recognize that. As a center back, I am actually on the ball a ton, it’s in different spots on the field so you obviously have to be a little bit safer, which I learned the hard way sometimes. But, it’s a lot of the same things. Distribution is huge. It’s been a fun puzzle for me to use all the pieces of distribution that I worked on for all those years in the attack and bring them a little bit deeper to try and start the attack from a deeper position.

HK: So, what’s it like to play for Kansas City? Now that you’ve spent a few seasons with this club in this city, what it’s like to play for the club and represent the city?

YA: It’s funny because when the league started, I was playing in Sweden and I remember looking at the list of where the teams would be and was like, “okay all of those places I would be pretty comfortable in, but I don’t know if I could ever go to Kansas City!” When I decided to come here, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had heard wonderful things about Vlatko (Andonovski) and the organization. I had seen the team play and really admired their style of play, so I knew that would be great. When I was driving out from New Jersey with my dad to Kansas City, I had no idea what to expect, but I’ve been really pleasantly surprised and I have only good things to say about Kansas City as a city. The sports, and in particular soccer culture here, the fan base, and the organization are great. I think from the broader picture of actually living here to every day what we do in training–I am really happy. For me, and I’ve said this multiple times, but it’s been the best professional experience I’ve had on any of the teams I’ve played for anywhere in the world, so I am really happy to be part of this team.

The 30-year old defender is always trying to improve her game and it's ultimately what keeps her motivated to keep getting better day in and day out. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

The 30-year old defender is always trying to improve her game and it’s ultimately what keeps her motivated to keep getting better day in and day out. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

HK: How did you get into soccer in the first place?

YA: As a kid, my family was really athletic, but knew nothing about soccer. My friend in school, in first grade, played on a soccer team. I went to watch the game and they needed extra players and they asked me to play. And I was like, “oh heck no I’ve never done this before, I’m scared!” And I didn’t actually play but it looked so much fun so I decided to sign up to play the next season. So, like any soccer family that doesn’t know anything about the sport, we figured it out together. I’m naturally a serious person about what I enjoy–not that I can’t have fun with it, but I don’t just do things to do them. I am either all in or I don’t do them at all. Even as an eight or nine year old, it was kind of like, “Well if I am going to play this sport, I am going to learn everything about it, I am going to watch it, I want to figure out how you become good at it.” So, I was fairly serious from a pretty young age.

HK: What’s been motivating you to continue to play professionally as the years have gone on?

YA: I think it’s really the same thing that’s motivated me since I was young. Not only have I enjoyed playing this sport, but it’s really a constant puzzle and I love the puzzle of always refining and trying to get better at something. For me, even at 30, to feel like I am improving as a player is what keeps me going for sure. I think the day that I don’t feel like I’m improving is when I will lose interest, but there’s always so much that can be done. Physically, I am an “older” player now, but still feel like I am making big strides. The game becomes more and more exciting the more pieces you start to work on and implement, so I think outside of just loving the sport as a whole, I definitely enjoy that process of looking for ways to improve.

HK: Where do you look for soccer inspiration? Which players to you really try to study and see what you can take from their game and implement into yours?

YA: We already talked about Becky. But, for me playing next to Becky, she’s a player who it’s really fun to play next to her because she is so good and does so many little things that people don’t usually recognize, except for her goal that was named GOTW 🙂 Usually, the things that she’s doing so well put her in a situation where she doesn’t have to do something spectacular. So it’s a really cool thing to watch every day and see in training. For me, as someone who is really competitive and wants to be my best, constantly watching someone who is considered the best in the world at what they do is a really fun experience. So I can’t leave Becky out of that! But, it is actually new for me to watch and start to admire the defensive side of the game. Now really on all the teams I watch, I will pay specific attention to defenders or to defensive midfielders and notice the way that players position themselves. I think there are things that I maybe saw before but didn’t appreciate the art of it all. I think that’s something that Vlatko has opened my eyes to–that there’s an art to defending. There’s a lot of thought and reading the game that goes into it, so now I notice that a lot more.

HK: Awesome. Switching gears a bit, I think it’s pretty awesome all the work you’ve done with your app Techne Futbol. Can you talk a bit about that? What inspired you to get it started and what types of progress and success have you seen thus far with awareness and usage?

YA: From a young age, something that really inspired me about the game and something I feel really fortunate to have had was a lot of really awesome mentors who spent a ton of time with me in 1-on-1 type sessions showing me different ways I could improve. I also watched a lot of really old VHS tapes with my dad on individual training and mastering all the different techniques of the game. That was the way my parents raised me, if you want to excel at something, you needed to learn all the tools and you should leave no stone un-turned, so to speak, and try to master those parts of the game. As a kid, I spent a lot of time with the ball–trying to get a certain number of juggles, practicing different moves, learning to strike the ball with both feet and doing repetition after repetition against a wall. What I’ve done with Techne Futbol is that I’ve tried to give back all of those ideas that I was either shown over the years or I somehow watched someone else do or things I made up myself of ways that players can take their game to the next level on their own. It’s very empowering as player to know that you don’t need to be on the most elite team, you don’t need any fancy equipment or a ton of space or a big training facility. You can go out with your ball and find a wall somewhere and really get significantly better. That’s the thought behind it, but it’s definitely a work in progress, but the idea is to continue to build on it and create a product that is super easy and fun to use but also focuses on what’s important when it comes to technical development.

HK: Where does your usage lie? What’s the split between youth players, college players, pros?

YA: It really spans that whole range. I have a couple really dedicated six-year-olds using it. They’re phenomenal. I see some of the videos of them doing exercises and it’s amazing. Then I was in the weight room for recovery the other day and I noticed that one of my teammates was doing some of the wall work from the app. There are pro players who are doing it in the off-season and throughout the season to stay sharp technically. I have a bunch of college teams on board because the college season is really short so there’s a lot of time to spend with the ball. All the way down through players aspiring to be pros and college players to some youth players- but, they just enjoy the process of starting to work on those things. It’s really spread out across the board.

HK: What are your plans to expand further and continue to develop the platform?

YA: I am always trying to expand further, but did not realize how much continual work that was going to take. I didn’t totally understand the world of technology when I started off with this, so the product is constantly being improved and expanded upon to make cool or better features as well as I am trying to really spread the word and get as many players using it as possible. From all angles–trying to make it bigger and better.

HK: So, when you’re not playing or training or developing an app, what can we find you doing?

YA: You’ve left me with about five minutes in my day! It’s funny because playing and the work I do on Techne, I don’t have very much free time but I’ve been, and this sounds ridiculous, I’ve been working to relax. I’ve recently started meditating. Just trying to spend more time specifically not doing anything, so even if it means just sitting on the couch watching a show and drinking some coffee or tea, just hanging out with people and doing things where I am not doing work, or doing recovery, or actively doing my job- that’s pretty much the extent of my free time!

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