Terrible news for #CourageCountry. Midfielder McCall Zerboni suffered a fractured elbow in Tuesday night’s friendly match against Chile and will miss the remainder of the season. Zerboni earned a spot on the USWNT after her stellar play helped the North Carolina Courage win back-to-back NWSL Supporters Shields, but the team will have to push on without her for the final two or three games of the 2018 season.
Terrible, updated news per a knowledgeable source: McCall Zerboni suffered a fractured elbow in #USAvCHI last night. She's out for the remainder of @TheNCCourage season, and you'd expect any hopes to play in CONCACAF Women's Championship.— Neil Morris (@ByNeilMorris) September 5, 2018
Zerboni played 1,800 minutes in 20 full matches this season. Her 71 intercepted passes top the league, and her presence as a holding midfielder for the Courage will be sorely missed. Throughout the season, head coach Paul Riley has repeatedly sung McCall’s praises as one of the best midfielders in the league and the glue that holds the team together. Now, with her sidelined, the Courage will have to come up with a suitable alternative to fill her shoes. Fortunately, no team in the league is better prepared to overcome this hurdle than the Courage.
If you took the star midfielder from any other team in the league they would likely suffer a major talent downgrade, but North Carolina was already blessed with too many midfielders and not enough starting spots for them. With McCall’s absence now certain, Riley’s midfield decisions become very clear-cut. Samantha Mewis and Denise O’Sullivan will start in the holding midfielder portion of the box while Debinha and Crystal Dunn will pair up in the attacking midfielder role. This means that Kristen Hamilton and Heather O’Reilly will be the forward/midfield substitutes each game, with Darian Jenkins likely regaining her position as the third woman off the bench. It is obviously impossible to replace what McCall brings to the table, but if any team is able to weather this storm it will be the Courage.
The worst part of this injury isn’t what will happen to the Courage, it is the effect this injury might have on Zerboni’s ability to make the 2019 Women’s World Cup roster with the USWNT. If the Courage lose against Houston and then their playoff game I’ll be sad, but this was McCall’s opportunity to take the field for her country and win a spot heading into October’s CONCACAF qualifying tournament. With this injury likely to keep her from those important matches and away from the team’s training camp the odds have certainly lengthened on McCall making the roster. This is the part that really breaks my heart. I know Zerboni will come back for the 2019 NWSL season ready to take names and kick ass, but this injury happened at the worst possible time for her from a career perspective. Unlike Dunn, who missed out on the 2015 World Cup roster and subsequently demolished the league, Zerboni might not have another shot after 2019 to play in a major tournament for her country. Hopefully she can recover quickly and earn that spot back at the end of 2018 or early in 2019 because we know she deserves it.
The North Carolina Courage will play their final game of the season at home on Saturday, September 8th at 7:30 pm. They will host a playoff semifinal against either Portland Thorns FC or the Chicago Red Stars on Sunday, September 16th at 6:00 pm pending the results of this weekend’s matches. If they win the semifinal, North Carolina would play in the Championship Game for the second-straight (third-straight?) season against the winning of the other semifinal the following weekend.