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Late bloomer Zerboni eyes the Women’s World Cup

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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.”

Adams: RB Leipzig ‘really, really excited’ to face PSG in UCL semifinal

Tyler Adams RB Leipzig
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Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig hero? The 21-year-old American midfielder wasn’t the hero RB Leipzig fans — or U.S. men’s national team fans, even — expected to celebrate on Thursday, but that’s the reality after he scored an 88th-minute winner (WATCH HERE) to knock off Atletico Madrid in the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

[ MORE: Transfer news: Man City want Thiago; Man Utd still chasing Sancho ]

The victory sends Leipzig to its first-ever UCL semifinal appearance, where they’ll face French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday. Adams didn’t start the game — he came on as a 72nd-minute substitute — and while he found that a bit disappointing at first, the New York Red Bulls academy product played his part and provided a far greater impact than anyone could have expected — quotes from CBS Sports (video below):

“It was very difficult. For the first 70 minutes, it was a close game so when I came on I wanted to bring energy and help the team in any way possible. Getting your first goal is unexpected for me — I’m not a typical goalscorer — but I’m happy that I could help the team.”

“Coming into this game, I was told that I wasn’t going to start but I needed to be ready to come off the bench and make an impact. I had to get myself in the right mindset to help the team in any way possible. We had a great game plan and everybody gave everything that they had. Not everybody is necessarily 90-minutes fit right now after a three-week holiday, so we had to be prepared and we were.”

“We’re really, really excited. We know that Paris are a great team, we saw what they did against Atalanta yesterday and they’ve got really good players. Now it’s about recovering in the right way, getting ourselves right mentally and working on the game plan. We’re confident in ourselves, you saw that today.”

USMNT’s Tyler Adams’ goal sends RB Leipzig to UCL semifinal (video)

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Tyler Adams goal: The American scored an 88th-minute goal, which proved to be the game-winner, to send RB Leipzig to its first-ever UEFA Champions League semifinal appearance on Thursday, knocking off Atletico Madrid 2-1 in the process.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

All three goals were scored in the second half after a forgettable first half was short on scoring chances, and it was Adams, who came into the game as a 72nd-minute substitute who delivered the decisive blow.

Atleti’s first chance of the game came in the 10th minute. Stefan Savic rose above the crowd to get his head to Renan Lodi’s floated free kick, but Peter Gulacsi managed to get both hands on the ball and keep it from crossing the goal line despite backpedaling and falling to the ground.

Atleti’s best chance of the first half came when Yannick Carrasco went dangerously close to putting Atleti ahead in the 13th minute, but Gulacsi was quick to cover his near post and palm the ball wide. After starting brightly, it was virtual radio silence from Los Rojiblancos after that.

To be fair to Atleti, it wasn’t any better for Leipzig — in fact, it was worse in the opening 45 minutes. To illustrate their inability to create scoring chances, let alone shots, a stat: despite holding more than 62 percent of possession at halftime, their four shots were taken by their defensive midfielder (1), a center back (1) and another center back (2).

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

Leipzig’s first shot taken by an attacking player came in the 51st minute, and it resulted in the game’s opening goal. It began with a prolonged period of possession to free Marcel Sabitzer down the right side of Atleti’s penatly area. The Austrian cross into the box floated ever so dangerously toward the penalty spot, and Dani Olmo arrive just in the nick of time to glance it past Jan Oblak.

Atleti were handed a lifeline in the 70th minute, though, as Lukas Klostermann was badly beaten by Joao Felix as he made a diagonal run into the penalty area and received the ball near the penalty spot. Klostermann cut him down from behind and gave away a penalty kick. It was Felix, who only entered the game as a substitute in the 58th minute who stepped up and converted past Gulacsi, with ice in his veins.

Coincidentally enough, it was Felix’s introduction — and immediate impact on the game — which appeared to necessitate Adams’ introduction to stifle the Portuguese’s threat. The rest, as they say, is history.

Up next for Leipzig is a semifinal clash with Paris Saint-Germain, who needed a stoppage-time comeback to knock off Atalanta and advance from Thursday’s quarterfinal.

Transfer news: Man City want Thiago; Man Utd still chasing Sancho

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In the latest transfer news, Man City have entered the race to sign Thiago Alcantara, Manchester United aren’t giving up on Jadon Sancho, and an entire squad has been put up for sale…

[ MORE: World Cup winner Matuidi reunites with Beckham at Inter Miami ]

Man City enter race for Thiago

On Wednesday, Bayern Munich manager Hansi Flick endorsed Thiago’s heavily rumored move to the Premier League after negotiations over a new contract had reportedly reached an impasse. That seemed to pave the way for Thiago, who’ll be out of contract next summer, to move to Liverpool, the most commonly reported destination in recent weeks. Not so fast, according to a report out of Germany, as Manchester City and Pep Guardiola, who worked with Thiago while at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, have reportedly entered the race. Liverpool are reportedly only willing to pay $35 million for the free agent-to-be.

Man United still chasing Sancho

Despite Borussia Dortmund’s increasing annoyance over a lack of progress in negotiations for winger Sancho, Manchester United continue to pursue the 20-year-old Englishman and have reportedly put all other transfer business on hold while doing so. According to another report, the contract Man United offered to Sancho would have resulted in the player taking a pay cut upon completing the move.

[ MORE: Thiago to Liverpool: Bayern boss urges Premier League move ]

Lacazette to Juventus

According to a report out of Italy, Juventus have made initial contact with Arsenal over a possible deal for forward Alexandre Lacazette. The 29-year-old has two years remaining on his contract, but the thinking here seems to be that Lacazette is quite clearly the no. 2 forward behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Juve are prepared to offer the Frenchman a chance to be more of a star man.

Fire sale at Valencia

Valencia have put their entire squad, with the lone exception of Jose Gaya, up for sale in an attempt to balance their financial books. The La Liga side’s desperate need for funds comes as a result of missing out on all European competitions after finishing ninth in the league, combined with the financial hardships brought about by COVID-19. Clubs all around Europe have been alerted to Valencia’s fire-sale approach. It remains to be seen how much of a “deal” can be had, or if Valencia can squeeze maximum value out of each player with so little leverage.

Key battles in Champions League quarterfinals

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The UEFA Champions League quarterfinals take center stage this week and we’re going to select one key battle which should determine the outcome of all four games.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ] 

With Manchester City the favorites against Lyon, a massive clash between Barcelona and Bayern Munich, plus an intriguing tie between RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid, the final few games in the 2019-20 Champions League campaign will be so tight to call.

[ MORE: Man City beat Real Madrid ]

In the next few days the Champions League quarterfinals will excite as the mini tournament in Portugal begins.

Man City beat Real Madrid 4-2 on aggregate to reach the last eight and Pep Guardiola’s boys will be confident but wary after Lyon dumped out Juventus in the Round of 16. Bayern v. Barcelona should be all-out attack, while Atletico v. Leipzig will be full of grit.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, and there will be one heck of a show over the next few days.

Below is a look at the key battles, as well as how to watch and follow all of the Champions League quarterfinal fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League quarterfinals

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


Team news

Diego Simeone has gone extremely defensive — even for him — by selecting defensive midfielder Marcos Llorente as a second striker alongside Diego Costa. Meanwhile for Leipzig, U.S. men’s national team youngster Tyler Adams is on the bench.


Key battles

RB Leipzig – Atletico Madrid: Dayot Upamecano v.Diego Costa

This should be an epic head-to-head. Costa loves the one-on-one scraps and Upamecano is among the finest center backs in Europe right now. The young Frenchman doesn’t get bullied often but Costa will have a good go. Costa has hardly been prolific in his second spell at Atletico but he so often sets the tone for their scrappy displays under Diego Simeone. Leipzig like to play a back three at times and that could leave space for Costa to run at Upamecano. This will be intriguing. Watch out for Costa to put down his marker early on with elbows and everything else flying at Upamecano.

Barcelona – Bayern Munich: Lionel Messi v. David Alaba

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Okay, so, we know how Jerome Boateng v. Lionel Messi went before. Somewhere, somebody is still using that gif of Boateng tangling his own legs like spaghetti as Messi bamboozled him to score at the Nou Camp. So it’s probably best if versatile Austrian star David Alaba goes up against Messi. It’s likely that Alaba will play at the back but he should basically mark Messi, and when (or if, because this is Messi) he gets the ball back he has the quality to start attacks. Bayern and Barcelona both score plenty of goals but defensively they have to improve if they’re going to win the Champions League this season.

Manchester City – Lyon: Aymeric Laporte v. Memphis Depay

Everyone is tipping Man City to beat Lyon easily, but that’s what everyone said about Lyon against Juventus. Memphis Depay is a real threat up top and Lyon usually do very well against Man City. Pep Guardiola needs Aymeric Laporte to be at his very best and it is likely he and Fernandinho will again line up together at center back. Laporte will line up on the left and Memphis will start on the right side of Lyon’s central strikers, so this will be a battle to look out for. Laporte has class but his pace is sometimes questioned and if City leave him exposed on the break, Memphis can take advantage of those situations.

Atalanta – PSG: Marten de Roon v. Ander Herrera

Yes, that Marten de Roon from Middlesbrough. The Dutch midfielder has been a sensation at Atalanta and does most of the dirty work for Gomez, Zapata et al. to score boat loads of goals. His battle in the engine room against Ander Herrera will be crucial. Marco Verratti is out injured and that is a big blow, especially with Kylian Mbappe and Angel di Maria out too for PSG. Neymar and Icardi will be looking for the midfield to give them the ball as much as possible and if that happens, PSG could run riot. That said, if De Roon can win that battle with Herrera, Atalanta’s attackers can cause PSG’s defense big problems. Whoever wins the midfield battle will win this game. It should be tight and full of goals. Enjoy.