Sandy, Utah — As the national anthem finished on Thursday night at Rio Tinto Stadium, McCall Zerboni tapped the USA crest on her warm-up jacket and kissed it, took a few stretches and headed to the sideline for the starting XI photo with her U.S. women’s national team teammates.
With a group of Utah-based family and friends in attendance, as well as family that drove in from California, her first international start was underway. Ninety minutes later, the Courage midfielder was still on the field and named Woman of the Match by U.S. Soccer for the 1-0 win over China PR.
“I’m bursting with pride and honor and I think a lot about my teammates — my Courage team, my teammates here. They helped me get here. And then the teammates around me today made me look good. I’m just so thankful to be playing with such amazing players and to be able to be in an environment where I still get to grow and improve every day and showcase my talents,” she said postgame.
The start came in Zerboni’s second cap after earning her first in October 2017. It’s also just her second-ever call into national team training camp — earlier this week she admitted she felt a “flutter” in her heart when she got the call from Ellis last month.
Zerboni started in the midfield alongside Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars) and Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), playing in a higher spot than NWSL fans are used to. In the second half, she dropped back into the more familiar deeper role.
USWNT head coach Jill Ellis said after the match that coming into this training camp she wanted to give Zerboni a “really good, hard look.”
“What I’ve seen tonight, yeah I definitely think McCall is going to be in the hunt and in the mix. It’s a very deep position for us. But I like the way she reads the game, controls the game, great energy. Even new-ish to the team, she’s obviously been in once before, leadership qualities within her,” Ellis said.
“But overall, I think just focusing on her play, I think she can mix it up in terms of short, long range. She gets stuck in, likes to win the ball. I actually liked her when I pushed her down central, more in the 6 role. Helped us get out and has really good vision to be able to open the game up.”
— NWSL (@NWSL) June 8, 2018
“I think the first half I obviously played in a different role. I was a little higher up the field, a more attacking role,” Zerboni said. “And then in the second half I was kind of sitting in front of the backline, just protecting and swinging balls side to side. I’m able to do both thankfully, so it was nice that we were able to try that and kinda change formations, let some other players come in.”
Also in the second half, Zerboni got to play alongside her fellow Courage midfielder, Sam Mewis.
“I do know her tendencies and her strengths and what she likes to do. It was a nice, calm deep breath for me,” Zerboni said of Mewis entering in the second half. “I’m obviously in a new environment and I’m trying to learn with new players and I’m trying to do the best that I can. So when someone comes on that I’m familiar with it’s good for me.”