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KEZI Sports Extra Podcast: Oregon women's soccer coach Graeme Abel

In this edition of the KEZI Sports Extra Podcast, Andrew Haubner sits down with new Oregon women's soccer coach Graeme Abel to talk why he took the job in Eugene, coaching the U.S. Women's National Team through two World Cup titles and the best advice he ever received from Hope Solo.

Posted: Feb 18, 2020 2:26 PM
Updated: Dec 1, 2020 6:39 PM

Eugene, Ore. -- Graeme Abel's new office at the University of Oregon is unassuming, tucked in a nearside corner in the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex. But sitting on his window sill are small pieces of memrobilia that make one realize what the Ducks got when they hired him as the new women's soccer coach. They got one of the most accomplished assistants in the United States. Adorning that window sill in his unassuming corner office are medals from the 2015 and 2019 Women's World Cup, where he coached the United States goalkeepers to two cup titles. There are passes from the Olympic village, where he traveled in 2018 along with Team USA. 

Just after his hiring, KEZI 9 Sports Director Andrew Haubner sat with Abel to ask why he came to Eugene after such an accomplished international career, the journey that took him into the ranks of coaching women's soccer, and some of his best stories with the USWNT. You can listen to the full podcast below, or on Apple Podcasts on the KEZI Sports Extra Podcast.

On why he chose Oregon:

Andrew Haubner, KEZI 9 Sports: You have reached the pinnacle arguably of this profession coaching a world cup champion in the U.S. women's national team, why go from there to the University of Oregon?

Graeme Abel, University of Oregon women's soccer coach: You know I looked at it in terms of I was an assistant with that team and I looked in terms of the next piece for me is the head coaching route and this position was open at the time. So I looked at it, knew everything about Oregon from my time in the past. Looked at my research online and so made the phone call, had the initial conversation with the administration and came on the visit and was blown away by what i saw in person and more importantly the people I met here.

AH : What was it about Oregon - I know you've coached in the Pac-12 before but what was your impression of them back then?

GA: Athletic. They were an athletic team always a tough team to play against and then in terms of the university, you knew it was a good school from a university piece, and you knew it was good from a university standpoint. And then obviously the facilities and the resources here are second to known. So knew that piece and with that I said, it was easy to have that conversation.

On his soccer journey bringing him to the United States:

AH: So going back to your career playing and coaching, I looked up your career did some research started with Everton and kind of moved over. How does a Liverpudlian end up in Kentucky?

GA: Crazy so, I was in the former professional contract at 18, I didn't get my contract extended and so at that point it was what do i do next? Do I continue to try and play? Salaries would be comparable to Single A baseball over here in the US. So I decided I wanted to do something else, at that point there was a US universities were looking at more international students in their athletic departments, and some came over to the UK and talked to us and I headed over to the states.

AH: So what was the first impression that you got of the United States when you moved here?

GA: I moved from Liverpool to a town of 2,000 people in Kentucky. I moved there, I wasn't sure what to make of it. It was the rolling hills, it was beautiful. But people were fantastic in Kentucky, I loved my time there and it was different but really great experience. 

AH: In my understanding, a lot of coaches have that split of where they decide whether or not they want to coach the men or coach the women. Where did you reach that fork in the road that you decided I want to be coaching the women?

GA: It was interesting because my first job was both men and women when I was a graduate assistant at my alma mater. But when I first started coaching women, I had a club team which was all the way back in 2001-2002. I had a small club team in Kentucky, I think they were U14 or U15 girls, just enjoyed the interaction. Just enjoyed the coaching piece. Had a U16 team the following year and from there, worked different camps around the country that were women's camps. My first job was the University of Nevada and I was an assistant women's coach. 

AH: So what was the best thing about coaching the women when you started and realizing that 'this is the track that I wanna be on for my career'?

GA: I don't know, that's a really good question. I just enjoyed the interaction. They listened to the knowledge you're throwing out there. They're enthusiastic. My first experience was very very good and then that sets me up for the future from there. 

On Coaching the United States women's national team:

AH: When you're coaching Hope Solo and Alyssa Naehr...what do you tell them? How does that work coaching people like that? 

GA: They're unbelievable pros. What I learned working with Hope, working with Alyssa, working with Ashlyn Harris and Adrianna Franch who's up in Portland...they're great pros. It's a two-way conversation the entire time. It's not me telling them everything I know. It's not them telling me they wanna do things this way. It goes both ways and I learned a lot from them in terms of that piece to create that bit of conflict. 

AH: At that level, how much coaching are you doing with those people who've been doing this for that long?

GA: It depends on the phase. If you're post Olympics and you run into that two year phase that runs into World Cup qualifying, you can do a lot of change. If you're going from World Cup qualifying to a period where you're in the World Cup -- if I'd have stayed with the U.S. in the period now from January to the Olympics -- it's more tweaks. It's more tactical,  functional tweaks. Once you get outside that of that window and you've got 18 months without any major competition, that's when you can make the technical tweaks. They're perfectionists, every single one of them and so they'll strive to every piece. At some point it's controlling, 'hey you're good on that piece. We can tweak this piece here but here you're good to go don't worry about it'.

AH: What was one of the best pieces of advice you got from one of the women's national team players in your time coaching?

GA: Being straightforward. I got that from Hope Solo really early on. I remember being in Portugal with her at an event and she let a goal in. I was kind of dancing around the subject. It was like 'tell me straight. I need this and I need this'. Straight to the point.

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