Getty Images

Late bloomer Zerboni eyes the Women’s World Cup

Leave a comment

McCall Zerboni is so dedicated to her soccer career that she once hawked random products to beachgoers in Southern California to make ends meet.

While Zerboni’s worst job ever paints a depressing picture of what some pro athletes must do to support themselves just to play the sport they love, it also shows how determined she has always been.

[READ: Premier League sets opening day for 2019-2020 season]

Now 32, the savvy midfielder is getting her shot at the U.S. national team and a chance to make the roster for the World Cup this summer. She was named this week to the 23-player roster for the upcoming SheBelieves Cup tournament that kicks off Wednesday in Chester, Pennsylvania.

She’s come a long way from the days of having to work multiple jobs – including that one dreadful offseason she spent wandering the beaches back home while trying to sell stuff to strangers – all to support her playing career.

“I’m just sort of one of those people where I wake up every day and just say that I want to maximize the day and my potential,” she said. “Just to live a day at a time and step by step. I think it’s easier to persevere through 24 hours – and then that turns into a week, a month and a year.”

Zerboni got her first call-up to the national team as an injury replacement in October 2017 and became the oldest player – at 30 – to earn her first international cap. She became something of a regular last year, playing in five matches before fracturing a bone in her elbow.

It was a devastating blow in Zerboni’s mind, to come so far and then to suddenly be sidelined. But she refused to wallow in misfortune and returned to the team for January training camp, playing in the team’s 1-0 victory over Spain as a sub for Julie Ertz.

Naturally it makes sense to ask Zerboni if she considers herself a late bloomer.

“Yeah, of course, when you look at the number 32, it’s like `Wow, that’s old,”‘ she said, laughing. “But honestly, I don’t feel old. In some ways I feel like I’m just hitting my stride, and that goes back to perseverance and the desire and will to challenge myself every day.”

Zerboni currently plays professionally for the North Carolina Courage, which won the National Women’s Soccer League championship last season.

After playing college soccer at UCLA, Zerboni began her professional soccer career with Women’s Professional Soccer, a league that existed for three seasons between 2009 and 2011.

Her last team in WPS, the Western New York Flash, joined the NWSL for its inaugural season in 2013 and brought Zerboni along. She also played for the Portland Thorns and the Boston Breakers before returning to the Flash in 2016. That team became the Courage the next year.

Last season, she became the first NWSL player to play 10,000 regular-season minutes.

“To see her on the verge of her first World Cup is just fantastic. She has followed a long and winding path but that process has made her the player and person she has become,” Courage coach Paul Riley said. “If you do enough small things right, big things can happen. She has been relentless and when she steps out on the greatest stage in women’s soccer it will signify what work ethic, determination, natural ability, never-say-die attitude can do.”

Zerboni has not been an allocated player for the U.S. national team, meaning her NWSL salary has not been paid by the U.S. Soccer Federation. That has limited her earning potential in the league, where the top salary is $44,000. The league minimum is $15,750 a season.

Because at times she hasn’t been paid a living wage, Zerboni has had to borrow from family and work part time at other jobs to make ends meet, something she says has humbled her.

“I’ve thought about quitting numerous times, mostly because of the heartbreak I’ve experienced, whether it’s teams folding, or leagues folding, or all the things you miss, the important things like birthdays, weddings, graduations, births of nieces and nephews. And getting paid pennies,” she said. “You’re constantly evaluating the sacrifice. Is it outweighing the satisfaction from playing football to miss out on all those things?

“So yeah, I’ve thrown my hands up and said `What am I doing?’ But there was always something still stirring in my heart to keep going. Now that I’m at the top level and on the biggest stage, all of those pieces are starting to come together for me. Something inside my spirit said, `Don’t stop. Don’t quit.”‘

Zerboni is hoping for call-ups to the remaining exhibition matches the United States will play heading into the game’s premier tournament, which opens in France in June.

The U.S. team is the defending World Cup champion and is loaded from top to bottom, but Zerboni hopes there’s room for her.

“Of course I’m hopeful. If we lose hope what do we have?” she said. “Right now I have everything. I’m full of hope, I’m full of desire, I’m full of passion. I want to be on that squad and get in there and help.”

Season restart preview: Brighton and Hove Albion

Brighton season restart
Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images
Leave a comment

With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, letโ€™s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

Brighton is next.

[ MORE:ย Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Letโ€™s take a closer look at all things Seagulls when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: If there’s a team whose results don’t show the way they’ve played, it’s Brighton. Graham Potter’s Seagulls have the sixth-best possession percentage in the league, are a tidy seventh in passing, and are mid-table in tackles per game, interceptions per game, and shots per game.

[ MORE: Ranking every Brighton player in 2019-20 ]

The expected goals stats show even less reward for good work, with Brighton scoring 8.35 goals less than expected in open play and 4.38 less from corner kicks.

Despite all these good things, Brighton is two points clear of the drop zone with nine matches to play and has a terribly challenging schedule especially at the Amex Stadium.


Tactical analysis: Graham Potter has put the Seagulls in myriad formations this season, though he’s been utilizing at least four at the back since the calendar turned to 2020. He’s ready to attack but pragmatic given the club’s hopes of staving off the teams below it in the fight for PL survival.

[ MORE: The 2 Robbies assess Brighton’s chances ]


Possible XI (4-2-3-1)ย 

โ€”โ€“ Ryan โ€”โ€“

โ€” Montoya โ€” Webster โ€” Dunk โ€” Burn โ€”

โ€”โ€“ Propper โ€”โ€“ Mooy โ€”โ€“

โ€” Trossard โ€” Gross โ€” Alzate โ€”

โ€”โ€“ Maupayโ€”โ€“

Glenn Murray and Alireza Jahanbakhsh are excellent weapons to have on the bench, and Brighton’s also got a very good center back in reserve in the form of Shame Duffy and an underrated center mid in Dale Stephens who will see playing time, too. On paper, this team is too good to go down.


[ STREAM:ย Every PL match liveย ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Arsenal, Man City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Newcastle
Away: Leicester, Norwich, Southampton, Burnley

Predicted finish: They’ll do enough to get by, though that home fixture list is simply brutal. Safe before the final weekend.

Social media wrap: All 20 Premier League clubs, many players stand against racism

Premier League social media
@Wolves
Leave a comment

The protests in the United States have inspired anti-racism statements from around the world, including all gestures from all 20 Premier League clubs and many players and managers.

There have been ongoing protests and horrible violence in the U.S. since the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes even after he stopped moving and pleaded for air in Minnesota.

Newcastle United’s American defender DeAndre Yedlin issued an emotional thread (below) as one of a great deal of players to express hopes for change and solidarity, while Schalke’s Weston McKennie explained his wearing a black armband reading “Justice For George” in the Bundesliga this weekend.

[ MORE:ย Remaining PL schedule in fullย ]

From Ancelotti to Zaha, Antonio to Yedlin, Arsenal to Wolves, we’ve collected many of their sentiments below in what we hope serves as universal disdain for racial prejudice.

Some players like Leicester City’s Wes Morgan and even entire clubs (Arsenal) changed their online identity photos to reflect these troubled times.

All PL clubs issued messages of solidarity, many using the Black Lives Matter hashtag and making no bones about where they stand.

And we’ll start with a longtime PL club currently in the Championship, who blasted a season ticket holder’s rejection of their unifying Tweet.

Here are some other clubs and players worldwide to have noticed what’s happening in the United States.

 

Season restart preview: Bournemouth

Bournemouth season restart
Photo by Robin Jones - AFC Bournemouth/AFC Bournemouth via Getty Images
Leave a comment

With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, letโ€™s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

[ MORE:ย Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Letโ€™s take a closer look at all things Bournemouth when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: Tough sledding for the Cherries, who face zero of their fellow bottom-six sides (though 13th place Newcastle and 14th place Saints both visit the Vitality Stadium).

There’s been an element of bad luck to Bournemouth’s woes, with its expected goals stats showing Ryan Fraser, Joshua King, and Callum Wilson have deserved better end product and that the Cherries’ 14 goals from open play should be closer to 22. The defense has been bad and xG says it could’ve been worse, too. Injuries had hit Bournemouth’s defense corps in a big way, too. How much better will they be after the break?

[ MORE: Ranking every Cherries player in 2019-20 ]


Tactical analysis: Eddie Howe utilized a 4-4-2 with two defensive midfielders for much of the early season, but has gone between a lone striker with a packed-in midfielder and a 4-3-3 when he thinks an opponent is exploitable.

Howe started a 4-4-2 against almost all of the Cherries’ remaining opponents, choosing a 5-4-1 against Wolves and Man City. There’s no guarantee he’ll continue that, especially when some matches may dictate a draw or limited goal differential damage over wins.


Possible XI (4-3-3)ย 

โ€”โ€“ Ramsdale โ€”โ€“

โ€” Smith โ€” S. Cook โ€” Ake โ€” Rico โ€”

โ€”โ€“ Lerma โ€”โ€“ Billing โ€” L. Cook โ€”

โ€” Fraser โ€”โ€“ C. Wilson โ€”โ€“ King โ€”โ€“

Howe prefers to attack when at all possible, but the points will be at a premium against some very challenging opponents. It’s a safe bet that he’ll ask a lot from his forwards while trying to deploy his three relentless midfielders together whenever possible. The question here is whether Aaron Ramsdale returns quickly from his COVID-19 positive test, or if it’ll be Artur Boruc or someone else between the sticks.


[ STREAM:ย Every PL match liveย ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Crystal Palace, Newcastle, Spurs, Leicester City, Southampton
Away: Wolves, Manchester United, Man City, Everton

Predicted finish: The Cherries stay up, just, as King and Callum Wilson deliver the goods in front of a determined and improved midfield.

Premier League clubs will reportedly be allowed preseason friendlies

Premier League return
Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Premier League clubs will be allowed to play preseason matches ahead of the 2019-20’s restart season later this month.

There will be strict protocols due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, and the matches will likely be officiated by club coaching staffs (We have so many Jose Mourinho as ref quips to make here, but let’s keep going anyway).

[ MORE:ย Remaining PL schedule in fullย ]

Sky Sports says clubs will be limited to opponents within 90 minutes of their venue, and that players will have to drive themselves to the stadiums and go directly to the field in uniform.

With the League One and League Two seasons still hanging in the balance, it’s likely PL sides will be limited to each other and Championship sides. Presumably clubs will not want to meet others still on their fixture list.

We assume some players will get dressed in their vehicles outside the ground, but allow yourself some levity in these challenging times and imagine a fully kitted-up Virgil van Dijk driving the roads from Liverpool to Wigan Athletic.