Yael Averbuch, newly traded from the Utah Royals to the Seattle Reign, was recently at the United Soccer Coaches Convention in Philadelphia to help with the NWSL draft and showcase her training system, Techne Futbol. In between sessions discussing soccer and the league, she was able to talk to Stars and Stripes FC about what she thinks the new USSF president should do, her vision for the future of the league, and some of the ways she’s attempting to implement that vision from the player’s side by helping organize the NWSL Players Association.
The most recent blip in the news you might have seen from the NWSL PA was a tweet expressing their dissatisfaction that the league had not notified them first before releasing the start dates for preseason and opening weekend.
Excited for the upcoming season but VERY disappointed that we as players have to find this out on Twitter. That has been our single request of the league. Please have the courtesy to send us this information before it goes public. https://t.co/5KPYPMxN5M— NWSL Players Assoc (@NWSL_PA) January 16, 2018
Averbuch was even-keeled about it, as she tends to be.
“We’ve planned to speak [to the league] after [the convention],” she said. “Obviously with the draft and the convention there’s a ton going on right now.... I think there’s definitely an understanding, and we made it clear that we weren’t happy with how things unfolded with this, and they’re very aware of that so we plan to talk and work together on it. It’s a very easy fix, so I think there’s no hard feelings at this point. We just had to make ourselves heard to say you know, this is an example of one way that we think we can be showing a little more respect.”
As for the PA itself, as president, Averbuch is still trying to put a firm structure in place and establish a status quo of behavior between the association and the league.
“For us as a players association right now, since we’re in such early stages, our main focus is really that communication,” she said. “Asking the front office questions like who do we contact about X, Y, and Z, making sure that we have kind of a seat at the table in some decision making that is appropriate for us as players to be a part of, and then also just strengthening our internal communications and making sure that we have contact with all the players and we can spread messages.”
All PA player representatives from each team have to be voted on again for a new season, as per the association’s bylaws. That’ll take some time too, with so many players shuffling around between teams in the offseason. But one thing Averbuch does want to continue from previous seasons is giving players the opportunity to educate themselves and plan for a post-player career.
“Obviously, it will take a long time for salaries to increase,” said Averbuch. “That needs to happen, but it may take some time. So things like helping players to get their coaching licenses, we want the players to be involved in the game, to stay around when they’re finished playing. Ongoing educational opportunities to finish degrees, get furthering education, help layers build their own brands and market themselves.”
The other big sea change in the near future will be the election of a new US Soccer president. Most of the candidates have spent a lot of time discussing how they would rebuild the structure of youth soccer in the United States, or if they would implement promotion/relegation. As a player in a division 1 league sanctioned and in part subsidized by USSF, Averbuch has a personal stake in the outcome of that election. For her, what she thinks players need from a candidate is simple.
“I think it’s about having the conversations and asking us and getting on the same page,” she said. “I think the interesting thing here is that in NWSL all the facets of the league really do have the same goal. You talk to Nike, who is a huge part of the league, you talk to US Soccer, the front office staff, the players, we all have the same exact goal but we all need to get on the same page. And I think for whoever becomes that next president, to fully understand the struggles and have in-depth conversations and then to help get everybody on the same page, because we want all of our momentums going in the same direction. Like I said, we have the same objective but right now people are kind of all doing their own thing.”
In the broadest sense, that objective is obviously the continued existence of a top-level pro women’s league. But what should a stable league look like five years from now? Averbuch had a few ideas.
“I think the huge next step is one, and this should be quicker than five years, having a fully staffed dedicated front office,” she said. “I think that is so important with somebody who is officially named commissioner, which hopefully again, this will happen well before five years. And a staff of people that is dedicated 100% to NWSL. The second part of that I think is...I think we need to go in the direction of the format being like other countries and like it is everywhere else internationally and with MLS, is that the league becomes people’s source of income and main place to play, and the national team then is obviously a huge honor but those call ups are more not based on contract but based on bonuses or whatever they do on the men’s side.”
Averbuch, once a part of the USWNT pool herself, is keenly aware of how the women’s contracts with US Soccer are structured and why. But that structure is a symptom of the relative lack of development women’s pro soccer has had in the US. USSF will only be able to stop subsidizing allocated players once every team in the league is financially stable enough to push the salary cap to that level. “I think when the league is able to sustain the salaries for all of the players,” said Averbuch, “And we’re all employed by NWSL as opposed to part employed by US soccer, part employed by NWSL, then we’ll be at a place where it will actually help our national team, because we’ll get an even broader elite player pool base coming out of the league and continue to make it even more competitive for international players to come.”
Between the draft, panels, and interviews, Averbuch was much in demand at the convention, a sign of how well-regarded she is by the soccer community. Obviously she’s determined to give back to the game by helping to build a safety net and general resource for players in the PA. Perhaps, in the far future, when she’s called time on her playing days, NWSL commissioner might be a goal for her?
“You know, it’s really hard for me to think of that right now,” she said with an exhausted laugh. “I can only imagine how difficult that role is. So, I wouldn’t say it’s like totally off the table. I absolutely will say I’m full committed to continuing to help the development of soccer in this country from the youth all the way up to the pro level. So I will be involved and I’ll be around. I don’t know in what capacity that will be. It’s not totally out of the question, but that’s not like a specific goal that I’ve created for myself.”