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NC Courage send McCall Zerboni to Sky Blue FC for rights to Hailie Mace

Mace was the No. 2 overall pick the 2019 NWSL Draft, but opted to play in Sweden instead of signing with Sky Blue.

After staying quiet for most of the week while the rest of the league swapped assets and players, the two-time defending champs of the National Women’s Soccer League made a splash Friday.

The North Carolina Courage traded veteran midfielder McCall Zerboni to Sky Blue FC in exchange for the rights to Hailie Mace. Additionally, if Mace signs a contract with the Courage for the 2020 season, the Courage will give Sky Blue a natural fourth round draft pick in the 2021 draft.

Zerboni, 33, had been with the club since 2016 when it was still playing in Western New York. A strong and fearless midfielder, she had helped Paul Riley’s side win a trio of NWSL championships and three straight NWSL shields. She was named to the NWSL Best XI in 2017 and 2018.

“She’s a highly decorated player in the league who adds quality and experience to our midfield,” Sky Blue Head Coach Freya Coombe said of Zerboni in a statement. “As a proven winner, we know she has the right mentality to help us succeed.”

Zerboni has long been tough, reliable and exceptional at her position, but she was beginning to become less of a staple in the Courage’s midfield toward the end of their 2019 campaign. When the Courage were at full strength, Riley often opted for a starting midfield partnership of Denise O’Sullivan and Samantha Mewis, and used Zerboni as a super-sub of sorts in the second half.

In 2019, Zerboni played in 24 of 26 games for the Courage, starting in 19 of them. She tallied 17 clearances, two blocks, 49 interceptions, 64 tackles and a 79 percent passing accuracy. She led the league in fouls conceded with 45. Zerboni has nine caps for the U.S. national team and was one of the last cuts former head coach Jill Ellis made leading up to the 2019 World Cup.

“McCall is irreplaceable and one of the greatest players and humans I’ve ever had the pleasure of coaching and knowing,” Riley said in a statement. “She has left a footprint and a legacy in our club that will live forever. She’s a warrior, a thoroughbred and a real footballer. She will be fantastic for Sky Blue and we wish McCall a tremendous future in the sport she has done so much to build.”

Added Courage general manager Curt Johnson: “McCall has been a key leader for our organization as we have built the Courage on and off the field. She is a fantastic person, player, and her positive impact on our club will be felt for many years to come.”

A 22-year-old UCLA product, Mace was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NWSL Draft, but opted not to sign with Sky Blue and instead joined Swedish side FC Rosengard, where she scored four goals in 16 appearances. Mace also played briefly in Australia’s W-League, scoring once in two appearances.

Mace wasn’t the only Sky Blue draft pick to refuse to play for the club last season, as UNC product and New Jersey native Julia Ashley also opted to sign with a Swedish club.

“Hailie will be a revelation in Courage Country,” Riley said. “She has a ton of ability and tools. She will love the culture and training environment. I sincerely believe she has the raw talent to be a regular on the USWNT. Hailie has pace, athleticism, intelligence and is very talented on the ball. She’s coming to a team that will get the best out of her and the competitiveness of the squad will be huge in her ability to improve and develop all facets of her game.”

Mace already has three caps for the U.S. national team and participated in one of new head coach Vlatko Andonovski’s first camps this past December.

In four seasons at UCLA, the 5-foot-7 Ventura, California native played as a defender and as a forward. She started in 74 of the 79 games she appeared in, tallying 24 goals and 12 assists. Mace featured as a left back, center back and as a striker while playing for the Bruins and helped them appear in three NCAA tournaments.

With Zerboni leaving and Mace coming in, the one thing that remains the same is the number of former UCLA players on the Courage roster. Mace joins Katelyn Rowland, Abby Dahlkemper and Mewis as the former Bruins currently playing under Riley.

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