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Hot Time On Tour: Sandra Conquers Orlando

On the ground for the 2017 NWSL Championship

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What a wild NWSL Championship final to close out the season. Unfortunately, it didn’t include the Chicago Red Stars, but it was a match that didn’t leave out any anxious moments for NWSL fans. The North Carolina Courage and Portland Thorns battled to a 0-1 scoreline that saw the Rose City crowned champions of 2017.

The drama of the final wasn’t without buildup, and luckily, we were fortunate to be part of the action on the ground in Orlando for the NWSL Championship to catch up with NC Courage MVP and 2017 NWSL MVP finalist Samantha Mewis, and NWSL Best XI midfielder McCall Zerboni. Although they came away as the runner up in the Championship, Mewis and Zerboni were able to chat a bit about the league on Media Day, and even gave recognition to Red Stars player Julie Ertz.

Game Recognize Game

While the semifinal was approaching, the Courage were motivated by their 3 losses to Chicago in the regular season. The 2017 shield winners were bested by Chicago throughout the year despite rolling out different formations against them.

Sam Mewis admits the midfield was a focus of theirs in preparation for the semifinal, crediting the play of Julie Ertz, saying: “The Chicago midfield is great and we definitely were concerned about that. Paul [Riley] was talking about the numbers situation - with Chicago always having four and being a little bit narrow – we talked about trying to neutralize that [diamond formation] and also utilizing our flanks to just play around the midfield. I think we did that, you saw a lot of attack down the flanks. Julie was a focus of ours. We talked about her at every practice leading up to it. She’s an incredible player.”

Chicago were eliminated in the 2017 semifinal on a 90 minute goal by Courage midfielder Denise O’Sullivan. The shot took an unfortunate deflection off Ertz, and the Courage went on the play for the NWSL Championship. Mewis admits the semifinal match was a tough game and elaborated by saying, “I think we played decently well in that [semifinal] game and we did enough to win, but Chicago had beaten us 3 times as the year went on, so, it was certainly a close game and I give Chicago a lot of credit - and I’m just glad we were able to find that goal in the end.”

Duel for club, battle for country

The United States National Team is in camps and has friendlies scheduled for this week on Oct. 19 and 22. When asked about playing with Ertz on an international level recently Mewis says: “Julie is obviously an amazing player, I love playing with her. Some of the thoughts that I had about those last couple of [National Team] games was – it was nice that if she went forward as kind of an 8 I could kind of hold the 6, and vice versa. If I went forward, then she could hold in the 6. And I thought we had a pretty good partnership with that.”

When elaborating on playing with Ertz on a National Team level, Mewis first recognizes the competition in camps and continues saying, “I, of course want to be on the field, playing with Julie was amazing. And anything that I can do to just keep playing for the national team or help the team in any way, I would love to just keep doing that.”

Don’t you wish there was just one more game?

Don’t worry, so does McCall Zerboni.

The midfielder made the best XI this year, along with fellow Courage players Mewis and Abby Dalhkemper. Red Stars captain Christen Press and Casey Short also helped to round out the Best XI this season. After getting named to the roster, Zerboni tweeted out her excitement and ready to compete with her fellow NWSL colleagues.

When asked about her career year making the best XI Zerboni says, “For me I’m very honored to make that XI. It’s a reflection of my teammates obviously, for me its saying the whole NC Courage, all 20 players are on the best XI in my opinion, because they’ve made me everything that I am this season.”

Zerboni elaborated on her tweet saying: “Right now it’s just something on a piece of paper right? When you look at a starting XI you go ‘ok who are they gonna play?’ But right now it’s just kind of like a fantasy false XI but if we can make that into something? And sort of evolve that into something? Maybe we play the second XI or maybe we go to Europe? Those are the kind of things that sports fans want to see.”

Zerboni has history in multiple leagues, playing in the former WPS (Women’s Professional Soccer) where an ‘All-Star’ style of game was once a part of a women’s pro soccer league. Zerboni elaborated on the NWSL and the possibility of one day having a high profile match like that in the current women’s league, saying: “I know our league is still growing and figuring things out but that’s something we should absolutely look into because that’s what fans love to see, there’s an entertainment value, they want to see those players that they’ve selected play together and compete together. So, we’ll see, maybe one day something like that will come along.”

Rough and tough final

Two of the league’s best defenses went head to head last Saturday to battle it out for the Championship. The low scoring affair wasn’t without some physical challenges, so many that reports of players injuries from the final are rolling out as the week progresses. Both Taylor Smith and Tobin Heath will miss upcoming U.S. National Team friendlies due to injuries sustained in the NWSL Final.

One goal and a strong defense was all that was needed from Portland to earn their second title in their five year history. Catch the highlights here: