LOS ANGELES -- She watched on television from hotel rooms and restaurants, or on a laptop while slouched on her couch. McCall Zerboni was filled with joy yet conflicted with jealousy. Ecstatic for her country but tortured because, as one of the final cuts from the U.S. team, she wasn't part of the Women's World Cup.
"It's been sad and disappointing," said Zerboni, a former UCLA standout. "But it's taught me so much about myself and life and this game."
Zerboni, a veteran of the National Women's Soccer League, was a late bloomer. She didn't make her national team debut until October 2017, at 30, the oldest American to earn her first cap. Still, many people expected the rugged ball-winning defensive midfielder to go to France anyway. Her exclusion was considered among the biggest snubs from the U.S. roster.
Zerboni used a metaphor to describe her frustration, likening the omission to being dumped by a boyfriend. "Not only did he break up with me unexpectedly," she added, "but I have to see him every day at work."
Although unable to bask in the limelight of a global stage, she chose not to wallow in the shadows either. She rededicated herself.
Zerboni dove headfirst into her club season with the North Carolina Courage in the NWSL. While the U.S. national team stars were across the Atlantic and making a run to a second straight World Cup title, Zerboni helped fill their void. Her team is 3-0-1 since the beginning of June. Her presence gave the league a much-needed recognizable face.
"I've dedicated my life and my craft to making sure soccer works here in America, so that the next generations and these young gals that are coming in now will never have to feel what I felt," Zerboni said during a phone interview.
Like so many of her peers, Zerboni has suffered and sacrificed to navigate an unstable career. Growing up in San Clemente, there were some years her youth club didn't even field girls-only teams. When she enrolled at UCLA in 2005, the United States' first women's pro league had already folded. Not until 2009, right as she graduated, did a new league, Women's Professional Soccer, start up.
A seventh-round draft pick in the WPS, Zerboni played in Los Angeles and Atlanta before signing with the Western New York Flash in Buffalo for the 2011 season. She helped her team to a league title that year, then settled into an even busier offseason schedule.
That winter, she trained in the morning, worked a marketing and promotions job in the club's front office during the day, and coached local youth players at night. Soccer was what Zerboni lived for, but this was the only way she could make a living doing it.