North Carolina Courage: Hailie Mace the necessary versatility

This week, the North Carolina Courage traded veteran leader McCall Zerboni for 22-year-old Hailie Mace. Mace brings the necessary versatility championship rosters require.

The North Carolina Courage made their first big splash in the NWSL offseason when they traded midfielder McCall Zerboni and a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2021 draft for the rights of Hailie Mace.

Mace was the number two overall selection in the 2019 draft by Sky Blue FC but most recently played for Swedish club FC Rosengard where she scored two goals and four assists in 16 matches played.

Following her draft selection, Mace opted to spend a short stint in Australia playing for Melbourne City in the W-League before playing in Sweden. She made two appearances in Australia and scored a goal in her debut 12 minutes after appearing as a substitute.

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The 22-year-old made her first U.S. Women’s National Team appearance between her junior and senior season at UCLA against Mexico in a 6-2 victor. She has appeared in three matches in total for the USWNT. She also took part in one of Vlatko Andonovski’s first camps as USWNT manager in December.

Mace brings versatility to an already deadly lineup. In her four seasons at UCLA, she appeared as a center-back, left-back, and a striker in college. The Courage have a center-back pairing that doesn’t look to be going anywhere soon with Abby Erceg and Abby Dahlkemper leading the defense. On the wings, Jaelene Hinkle and Merrit Matthias — once she returns from injury — support the attack like no other full-back pairing in the league, while hird-year player Ryan Williams also returns to the Courage as a second right-back and impressed in her limited appearances during the World Cup. Up top, Lynn Williams and Jessica McDonald are the head of the best attack in the NWSL.

It isn’t exactly clear where Paul Riley will play Mace in his star-studded lineup but there is no doubt that he will welcome her talents wherever he sees fit. And given that a league season is long and physically demanding, having players like Mace who can play in several different positions is invaluable. She might not make the best XI for the North Carolina Courage, but she could still play in a large number of games throughout the season.

Nevertheless, her best opportunity to break into the starting XI will be this summer when once again several players will leave for international competition at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

The summer will give Mace a chance to impress Riley and the Courage coaching staff to increase her odds of getting called on later in the season or becoming a consistent starter in the 2021 season.

Meanwhile, North Carolina will miss the presence of veteran leader McCall Zerboni, who had been with the club since 2016 when the team was the Western New York Flash. Zerboni was a hard-nosed defender who helped win three-straight NWSL shields and two-straight NWSL championships.

Towards the end of the 2019 season, however, she saw her time with the Courage diminish with Riley choosing to play a midfield consisting of Sam Mewis and Denise O’Sullivan and often times bringing Zerboni on as a substitute to see the match out.

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At 33 years of age, the North Carolina Courage have replaced the veteran with young and versatile depth. And so, as they look to supplement their star-studded team, an NWSL Shield and Championship beckon once again.

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