Before the Final: Quotes from Abby Erceg, Jess McDonald and McCall Zerboni

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Abby Erceg

Backline: So, championship, second year in a row, sort of. Is there that same feeling as last year? Or do you guys think of this as sort of a different team? 

Erceg: No, I think we have 75% of the players from last year. So other than the rebranding I think it’s more or less the same team. We treat it as the same team. We treat the history the same as you would if a club was obviously the same name. So this for most of us is our second championship consecutively regardless of the name. Regardless of whether or not you’ve won one before, I think you have to put that aside and focus on what’s happening this year because last year’s championship isn’t going to win you this year’s championship, unfortunately. But yeah, we do treat it like it’s the same team. 

Backline: So, championship, second year in a row, sort of. Is there that same feeling as last year? Or do you guys think of this as sort of a different team? 

Erceg: No, I think we have 75% of the players from last year. So other than the rebranding I think it’s more or less the same team. We treat it as the same team. We treat the history the same as you would if a club was obviously the same name. So this for most of us is our second championship consecutively regardless of the name. Regardless of whether or not you’ve won one before, I think you have to put that aside and focus on what’s happening this year because last year’s championship isn’t going to win you this year’s championship, unfortunately. But yeah, we do treat it like it’s the same team. 

Backline: Is there a little bit of that comfort that a lot of your players have gone through a championship before? You don’t maybe have the same amount of nerves. I’m sure there’s nerves, but it’s not that first time you’ve sort of played on that stage. 

Erceg: Yeah, I think that’s a really good thing about it. It just seals the nerves a little bit. We know exactly what to expect. We know what’s going on. We know that it’s going ot be a little disruptive and not the same kind of build up that we have for normal games. So I think having that does help a little bit. You’re obviously going to have the nerves going into a game anyway. But I think it does help. 

Backline: You had the home semi this year. Was that something North Carolina’s first home semi in the league – was that sort of a nice thing to give back to the fans? 

Erceg: Yeah, I’ve played with Chicago and we had a home game there, and it’s kind of the exact same thing. You work so hard throughout the season. Obviously being with North Carolina for the first time you want to give something back to the fans and to everybody that’s supported us. SO I think coming to the championship is a really nice way to do that. 

Backline: Now there is something unusual this year. Both center backs on Portland are Emilys, both center backs on North Carolina are Abbys, is there just a little bit of that sort of weirdness of it? 

Erceg: Yeah, I think just playing with Abby last year, playing with two center backs called Abby, you don’t see that everyday. Even now, it’s weird. But the fact that we’ve got two teams like that. I mean, coincidence, maybe? 

Backline: A little bit about your relationship with Abby [Dahlkemper], sort of your partnership. Has that grown as she’s gotten some national team experience to sort of bring that back in? You yourself have a long history of experience. 

Erceg: Yeah, I think having played with her the first year, I didn’t get to play alongside her. I obviously played the midfield in front of her. We did a lot of switching, we did a lot of changes of formation trying to figure out who went where and what fit best with each other. I think this year hitting it, we know exactly where people fit and who fits best with each other and I think me and Ab have been able to build that relationship from the start. The way that she plays is a lot similar to me. We’re both more on the aggressive side rather than the conservative side so the way that she plays makes it easier for me to as well, I can read her, and I think it works really well together. 


Jess McDonald

Backline: So how are you feeling going into the final? I’ll get the boring question out of the way first.

McDonald: Feeling excited! I’m pumped to be here, obviously the whole team is so. It’s just cool to be back in the championship again. 

Backline: With Duke and UNC right there, is that helpful having a local pro team that those players – they can go to games, the UNC women can just come to a game as a block and watch you guys on the field as professionals. Does that sort of make it more real for the college players do you think? 

McDonald: Oh, most certainly! And the most incredible thing is that a lot of them have actually come and trained with us. So it’s cool to have them throughout the summer time to give them a piece of what the pro game is like. And so I think it’s just a cool experience for those type of college players overall to not only join in at our games and watch us, but to join us at training and to improve their football on the field. So it’s cool to watch them mature as well as players. I think it’s just an absolutely incredible thing for each program. 

Backline: One thing that we’re sort of getting to in the NWSL that we didn’t have in previous leagues. If you came into college as a freshman, and you’re about to graduate, you’ve had the NWSL every year you’ve been in college. Is that stability key to players? They can plan, “yeah, they want to go pro.” vs. “I don’t know if the leagues’ going to be there when I graduate college.” 

McDonald: Definitely! And I feel as if, if you have something like that to look forward to, you’ll want to improve your game. You’ll want to try to be the best player out there, obviously. So I think it’s cool to see how they have a plan to become a pro soccer plan, whereas when I was younger, when I was a freshman in college, we didn’t have a league. So I didn’t have that to look forward to. But for these college players now, that’s something to look forward to. I think it’s just a lot better of a feel. And obviously, parents always want their kids to become pro at whatever sport that they play, so. I know it’s only a small percentage but I just think it’s gonna help college players stay motivated.

Backline: Speaking of mother-son relationships, are you and your son going to be the first mother-son cap of the US? Is that the goal? 

McDonald: I hope so! That would be great! Yeah! 


McCall Zerboni

Backline: So Dan Lauletta put out an interesting stat, I think it was there’s been 3 years or 2 years since 2009 that neither you or Paul hasn’t been in the playoffs. Is that sort of one of those things where you guys have that experience that you can help some of the younger players sort of– it’s just another game guys, you know, you don’t have to–

Zerboni: I hope so, yeah. We’re a fairly young squad, and you know sometimes nerves can work into these things, or expectations get the best of us. But it’s just another game. And people just need to remember that. Nothing’s changed. it’s still a 90+ minute game, it’s still 120 by 75, it’s on a beautiful grass field, it’s what we’ve been doing, what most of us have been doing since we were 5, 6, 7 years old. So just to remind them why we do this, and it’s because we love it, and we should go out there and enjoy ourselves and not freak out. 

Backline: One interesting bit that you sort of touched on is that you have a lot of UCLA players on this team. Is there a little bit of that connection that helps that you guys have that UCLA background? 

Zerboni: You know, our generations were different. Like I never played with the young ones. But you know, a group of them did play together, so I’m sure that helps. I think it’s more fun for like banter, you know we banter all the time. Like oh, if you’re on UCLA, you can’t be in this box over here, you know so we kind of joke around, stuff like that. But yeah, I mean maybe a little bit, just kinda gets us on the same page, or that we have a little something in common, that helps, because we come from all different parts of the world and all different backgrounds, and the more and more we can find commonalities and realize our common goal, that’s helpful. 

Backline: You and Abby seem to have some experience. Does that help having another sort of player that’s not 21, 22, just sort of be like, okay – we’re going to talk about mortgages and about life. 

Zerboni: Yes (laughs). So that’s why I really appreciate her. So since Nora came in, we’ve just really bonded. I think not so much because of our age and our experience, but I mean she’s an amazing person, and we just sort of have the same take on life, and we’ve both been through a lot. And sometimes it was just me and Jess or whoever and so, I’m like, “Anyone? Anyone gotta pay their bills today? No one? okay.” Or, “remember when this happened, or remember when this song came out?” or just to have someone to relate to, to kind of help me lead the troops is helpful. 

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