ROCHESTER, N.Y. — McCall Zerboni spent four mostly good years with the Western New York Flash. Along the way she went from a role player on the amazing 2011 WPS team to the star of the WPSL Elite side in 2012 and then back to the shadows when Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd arrived for the launch of NWSL.
She became captain.
And then she wasn’t captain.
The team stood by her after a drunk driving arrest that came between consecutive championship runs. Zerboni also played in a third title game with the Flash, losing to the Portland Thorns in 2013.
On Wednesday night, Zerboni was back at Sahlen’s Stadium as a visiting player for the first time (she was never in the same league as the Flash before signing there in 2011). She came back with Portland Thorns FC, who acquired Zerboni and Kat Williamson in November in exchange for Amber Brooks.
“As soon as I landed of the plane, I took a deep breath and I had a serious moment of nostalgia,” Zerboni said after her Thorns snapped a three-match losing streak by beating the Flash, 2-0. “I have such great memories here.”
Four days earlier, another former Flash player returned guns blazing. Carli Lloyd let it be known that she was not pleased with how the organization went about trading her. After scoring the goal to give her Dash a 1-0 victory she made it clear she would “never” be speaking to Flash coach Aaran Lines.
“Carli is the most powerful woman in women’s soccer right now and she has the right to say whatever she wants,” Zerboni said. “I don’t really have a comment on that. Everyone has a different experience. I like to give love for the experience that I’ve had here and I’m nothing but appreciative. It helped me grow and a lot of people supported me during tough times. I grew as a human and I grew as a player.”
In Portland, Zerboni is not only wearing a different uniform on a different coast, she is playing in a system that often uses only three defenders. The Thorns sat three in back on Wednesday with Zerboni playing on top of them.
“It’s definitely interesting and definitely different,” the 28-year-old midfielder said. “It puts a little more work on the holding mids because we don’t have as much safety in the back. So I’ve been having to play a little more defensive role and kind of just sweep in front. I would like to be able to get forward more and maybe be a little but more of a threat and score some goals. But I’m willing to take the role for the team. We have one of the best defensive records this year so can’t complain.”
Zerboni said that along with having less protection behind them, the defensive midfielders have to be extra cognizant of keeping possession. Not doing so proved fatal in consecutive losses to the Reign. “It’s difficult also because there’s always a lot of pressure in that area. And we like to play. We like to play football. And sometimes when we play it doesn’t always go our way. I’d rather lose the ball trying to play then just thump it over the top and losing our philosophy. So I’m glad that we’re trying to keep our style and play a pretty game.”
Wednesday was a particular challenge after the Thorns’ loss Sunday in Seattle. They took a red-eye flight straight from that match to Rochester where they spent Monday in the pool and Tuesday doing a light walk-through. Wednesday was the Thorns’ third match in eight days and they had not scored since July 3.
“Tiredness is a mentality,” Zerboni said. “We didn’t complain. We didn’t let each other say anything negative. That goes a long way in a locker room and within the morale of a team. We have great leadership and a great coach who’s hard on us and doesn’t let us get away with that kind of stuff.”
The Thorns are Zerboni’s fourth organization since she joined the top flight in 2009. The Flash uniform is the only one she has worn in consecutive seasons (she started with the Los Angeles Sol in 2009 and went to the Atlanta Beat in 2010.)
“It was a big chunk of my life and my career here for our years,” she said of Rochester. “It’s a big part of who I am.”
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