Midfielder Yael Averbuch (pronounced A-ver-bush) is one of the three uncapped players on the U.S. roster at the Four Nations Tournament. Coming off an excellent season at UNC, she is enjoying her first National Team experience and trying to soak up as much soccer knowledge as she can. If she can return to the United States with her first cap, that would be awesome, but she also wants to come back with something else…a nickname.
Yael Averbuch has a goal. Yeah, she wants to play for the U.S. Women’s National Team at the Four Nations Tournament in China and earn her first career cap, but what she really wants is a nickname. And she knows what it is: YaYá.
Averbuch, who is incredibly skillful with the ball at her feet, is a big fan of Brazilian soccer and its never-ending cast of one-name players. She thinks it would be really sweet to be known by just one name. She knows you can’t really choose your own nickname, but admits she’s launched a somewhat covert campaign to do just that.
“I love Kaká and how he plays the game,” said Averbuch of the Brazil and AC Milan star. “I would like to model my game after him, so if I could have a nickname close to his, that would be cool, too.”
Never ones to shy away from funny nicknames, her new teammates on the National Team have embraced it. After all, it’s easier to say YaYá on the field than “YA-el,” perhaps the longest two syllable name around. While she will probably never get to put “YaYá” on the back of her National Team jersey, perhaps she could convince UNC head coach Anson Dorrance to go for it.
If she has another year like she did as a sophomore in 2006, when she scored 16 goals to become the ACC Offensive Player of the Year, the long-time Tar Heel coach just might have to consider it.
“Well, we don’t have the names on the backs of our jerseys, but maybe he could make an exception just for one game, maybe my last game as a Tar Heel?” said Averbuch. “That’s all I would want.”
Averbuch has taken a circuitous road to the National Team. A member of the U.S. team that took third place at the 2004 FIFA U-19 Women’s World Championship, she played sparingly in Thailand. She had the opportunity to earn a spot on the 2006 U-20 team for the World Championship in Russia, but instead chose to focus on her upcoming college season. The decision turned out to have benefits, as she put in a spectacular performance as one of the team leaders on a squad that won the NCAA title. She also set the record for fastest goal in NCAA history, scoring after four seconds directly off the kick-off against Yale.
“It was a difficult choice not to play for the U-20s last year and try to earn a spot on the World Championship roster,” said Averbuch. “I love playing for the USA, but after experiencing the Thailand world championship, I didn’t want to come into the college season tired and not being able to give my best. I just didn’t think I could do both without compromising one team or the other, so I felt I had to choose.”
Coming off her strong college season, Averbuch was called into her first National Team training camp in early January, and performed well as one of the gaggle of young players invited by head coach Greg Ryan. With several veterans not traveling to China, and the U.S. team in need of some depth at the center midfield position, she made her first-ever full National Team roster for the Four Nations Tournament.
“I was a little bit surprised to make the roster for China, I just had no idea of what to expect coming into camp,” said Averbuch, who has been playing for the U.S. youth teams since the Under-16 level. “One thing that really helped me was that I had previously played with a lot of these players before in college and on the National Team, so that really helped my comfort level. But obviously, I was really nervous. In all honesty, I probably would have been freaking out if I didn’t know so many people. As it turned out, all of the veterans were great and very friendly and helpful. They have been awesome helping me get adjusted to this level over here in China as well.”
While the 5-foot-10 Averbuch continues to adjust to the speed and physicality of the international game, she does have an item on her soccer resume that is unique.
In Thailand, while Averbuch only saw action in one match, she was involved in the most intense games of Thai soccer tennis in U.S. history. Well, it was the only game of Thai soccer tennis in U.S. history, but that didn’t make it any less exciting.
It happened something like this…
After the third-place match in which the USA defeated Brazil, 3-0, Averbuch somehow brokered a soccer tennis match with Brazilian stars Marta (FIFA’s 2006 Women’s World Player of the Year) and Cristiane, two terribly crafty strikers who almost led Brazil to the 2004 Olympic gold medal just a few months before.
Averbuch squared off against the Brazilians with midfielder and roommate Sheree Gray in the Thai game of “Rattan Ball,” also known as “Takraw.” The game uses a hollow, loosely woven whicker-type ball which is kept aloft over the net with no bounces aloud (which is good because the ball doesn’t really bounce anyway). Played at the highest level, it features a bicycle kick on every rally as a sort of a spike, where the “spiker” somehow lands back on his feet.
While there were no bikes in the Averbuch-Gray vs. Marta-Cristiane match-up, the intensity of the match was palpable. The Thai players cleared off a court for them in a Bangkok city park behind the team hotel and “fans” from all the other courts gathered to watch, as did players and staff from both teams.
“It was one of the best days of my life,” said Averbuch, who along with Gray were wearing Brazilian National Team gear for which they traded (Marta was wearing a U.S. Soccer hat and Cristiane had on a U.S. Soccer t-shirt). “That might make me sound like a soccer dork, but it’s true. It was so fun, especially to play against players of their caliber.”
In somewhat of an upset, Averbuch and Gray won the game against the Brazilian virtuosos and, so they thought, the match. As Averbuch and Gray celebrated their victory, the Brazilians, who spoke very little English, somehow mustered, “Two out of three!”
“We should have just walked off the court,” said Averbuch. “Then I could say I would have beaten Marta.”
Prior to the start of the match, the teams had agreed on just three touches per exchange, but somehow that rule conveniently got lost in the translation from the first game to the second, and the Brazilians, juggling as many as 10 times each on their side, proceed to take Games Two and Three.
“We played honorably,” said Averbuch. “But I guess we weren’t as tricky as the Brazilians. I want another shot at Marta and this time, we’re going to win.”
While Averbuch won’t get a chance to play Brazil in the Four Nations Tournament, the USA will face three of the world’s top teams in Germany, England and China.
“I don’t know what to expect, but if I get to play, I really want to play well and contribute,” said Averbuch. “The chemistry on this team and the competitiveness is just amazing. As a young player, you really want to work hard and do well for the more experienced players. There is a lot of pressure to do well, but at the same time, all the players and coaches are so supportive. It’s just a great environment to grow.”
No matter how much she plays in China, the experience will no doubt set a solid base for the 20-year-old to build on as she continues to develop as a National Team player. Now, if she could only get Marta back on the soccer tennis court.