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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.”

Pique: Copa-losing Barca still “really hurting” from UCL exit

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Barcelona was the favorite to win La Liga, the UEFA Champions League, and the Copa del Rey for the majority of the season, but only claimed one.

Liverpool’s amazing comeback to beat Barca in the second leg of the UCL semifinals met Saturday’s loss to Valencia in the Copa del Rey Final to give Barca a league title alone.

[ MORE: Real, Chelsea debate Hazard fee ]

Even with that La Liga advantage being decisive — Barca carried the table by 11 points over Atletico Madrid and finished 19 ahead of Real Madrid — there’s a very dour mood and promised change for the Camp Nou set.

And Gerard Pique says it all traces back to the loss against Liverpool. From The Liverpool Echo:

“I believe that if we had gotten through at Liverpool, we would have won the treble. We would have come here [to the Copa del Rey final] with a different mood, and I’m convinced we would have won the Champions League final, but that is football. We are really, really hurting.”

There are hints of a massive clear-out at Barcelona, with Lionel Messi and Pique two of the only safe bets to stay. When will Barca get over it?

Brazilian team tangles in locker room futmesa (video)

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It was defense versus attack in the Brazil dressing room.

Neymar and Gabriel Jesus squared off with international teammates Filipe Luis and Ederson in a game of futmesa/table soccer this week.

[ MORE: Real, Chelsea debate Hazard fee ]

Neymar and Filipe Luis are used to be on different sides of the field from their time in La Liga, while Jesus and Ederson are teammates at Manchester City.

Brazil is hosting this summer’s Copa America and is the favorite to win its first tournament since 2007, when it claimed its fourth in five tries.

It’s really impressive stuff for us normal to subpar athletes, even if standard for those with such deft talent.

Quite a winner from Man City’s young striker.

Jovic could see himself in Premier League, Serie A

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Maybe Luka Jovic’s presumed move to Real Madrid won’t happen this summer.

Or at all.

[ MORE: Real, Chelsea debate Hazard fee ]

The Eintracht Frankfurt striker has been tipped for a move away from the Bundesliga after another strong campaign, and taking the center forward reins from Karim Benzema at Real Madrid.

Several outlets reported the deal as done, but Jovic isn’t speaking that way (or at least the Serbian is throwing us off the scent.

From Goal.com:

“In terms of the physique, the Bundesliga is very demanding, but after the games against Chelsea or Inter Milan, I personally had the feeling that I could feel even better [playing] in the Premier League or Serie A. … The way the teams play there suits me better.”

Jovic scored 27 times in 48 appearances for Frankfurt, adding seven assists at the tender age of 21. Ten of those came in the Europa League, and we’re not talking about flooding the nets of minnows; Jovic scored against Chelsea (twice), Marseille (three), Lazio (two), and Inter Milan (once).

Report: Chelsea, Real $38M apart on Hazard

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How much for Hazard?

Real Madrid are willing to pay $127 million, no small fee, to bring Eden Hazard from Chelsea, but that’s well off the Blues’ evaluation according to Sky Sports.

Chelsea sees Hazard’s price as $165 million. Belgian writer Kristof Terreur told Sky that Hazard wants his future sorted by June 4.

[ MORE: Bayern wins double ]

The Blues’ superstar is entering the final year of his contract, and could begin negotiating with other clubs in January and leave on a free transfer.

Hazard turns 29 in January. He recorded 19 goals and 16 assists in 51 matches this season, his best output in a Blues uniform.

The report says Chelsea feels no pressure to sell Hazard, but it would be a surprise if it dug in its heels too deeply considering the state of the Belgian’s contract.

Even for Chelsea, letting over $100 million walk out the door is wild, and for all Hazard’s won with Chelsea there’s also been consternation under several managers and a more than occasional habit of disappointing on the table.