101317_isi_zerbonimccall_nwsljmr10132017-108 Jeremy Reper/isiphotos.com
National Women's Soccer League

McCall Zerboni Predicts Tense Battle in NWSL Final

Zerboni will be playing in her fifth professional championship in the last eight years tomorrow afternoon, a fact that gives the North Carolina Courage midfielder a fair bit of perspective on the league finale.
BY John D. Halloran Posted
October 13, 2017
12:00 PM

ON A TEAM FULL of young and emerging national team stars, it’s easy to overlook 30-year-old journeywoman McCall Zerboni. However, in a career spanning six teams through both Women’s Professional Soccer and the National Women’s Soccer League, she has proven over and over to be a difference-maker.

Now sitting on the verge of playing in her fifth professional championship game in eight seasons, the North Carolina midfielder attributes her success to doing things the right way.

“I like to consider myself a winner,” Zerboni explained to the media this week. “By that I mean, not necessarily the achievement of winning a trophy. I consider a winner somebody who is a winning person.”

“Creating a winning culture is inspiring those around you to be a winner at what they do every day as well,” she continued. “The people that we are in this club, we put the team first. How united we are, how selfless we are, how humble we are—that’s what true winning is.”

Zerboni enters Saturday’s NWSL championship game against Portland (4:30pm ET, Lifetime) in career form. As part of North Carolina’s dominating midfield, the California native earned Best XI honors this season and has drawn praise from both teammates and coaches.

“McCall has been amazing for us this year,” explained midfield partner Sam Mewis. “She is such a workhorse. She wins all of her tackles. Her energy is huge for our locker room. She’s positive, she cares so much about each individual person, and she cares so much about the team as a collective.

“Having her a leader to look to and learn from, seeing the way she takes care of her body, seeing the way she takes care of the team. She was counting our bags at the airport yesterday to make sure we had them all. She takes everything upon herself.”

Zerboni herself jokes that she is the “team mom” and pointed out that she feels a responsibility to help the younger players.

“I have the opportunity to lead this bunch and they’re a great group of people,” said Zerboni. “I haven’t been through this wild, wild journey as a women’s soccer player for no reason. Everything that I’ve been through in the past nine years has been to pass it on to the next generation and show them and teach them what I know.”

Courage head coach Paul Riley has also seen Zerboni’s impact on his squad, particularly among his younger stars, many of whom have begun to flourish on the international stage.

“[McCall] is a class player,” said Riley. “She’s unbelievably good in the locker room too. She’s a great leader and I think she’s had a huge influence on players like Sam Mewis, Lynn Williams, Abby Dahlkemper, and Taylor Smith.”

North Carolina finished this season with a league-leading 16 wins en route to claiming the NWSL Shield as regular season champions. Through it all, Riley has continuously tinkered with his midfield, often giving Zerboni different roles to fill.

The UCLA alumna says she prides herself on being flexible for the good of the team and believes Riley has provided her the type of challenging atmosphere that has helped her grow as a player.

“I don’t believe in an easy life. I don’t believe in an easy journey,” she noted. “When you’re uncomfortable, that’s when you’re pushing yourself and getting better and that’s what Paul has done for me.”

On Saturday, the Courage will face a stern test, especially against Portland’s potent midfield. Zerboni foresees a tight contest between the two.

“These are two very great squads with a lot of talent and strengths. I’d imagine it’s going to be a low-scoring game. It’s not easy to score goals in games like this.”

John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.

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