The Flash's Pac-12 Presence
By Brian Price
In the soccer film "The Damned United," assistant coach Peter Taylor says the key to success is creating an "offensive skewer" wherein three players, one up front, one in the middle, and one back on defense, work together to move the ball effectively up the field.
The Western New York Flash seem to have put together a successful skewer themselves comprised of forward Alex Morgan, midfielder McCall Zerboni and defender Ali Riley. All three players start, all three players have proven to be integral parts of the Flash's rise to the top of the standings in Women's Professional Soccer and all hail from the Pac-12.
"I never thought of it that way," laughs Zerboni. "But that definitely makes sense. A lot of what we do is running a fast-paced Barcelona style offense that relies on moving the ball quickly up the field towards the goal before the defense can get set."
Zerboni spent her collegiate playing days at UCLA, where she developed a love for the game and a passion for helping others. After losing her beloved aunt to breast cancer, Zerboni spearheaded multiple initiatives throughout Women's Professional Soccer to raise money and encourage breast cancer awareness.
She has yet to play on the Olympic or World Cup levels, which is clearly a goal, but has achieved success in other ways.
"Obviously soccer is everybody's world outside of America, but going to a third-world country in [South America] and witnessing how the sport can empower people is amazing. You can see the light it brings to people and I'll never forget the smiles and confidence soccer brought to their faces," adds the San Clemente, Calif., native.
Riley captained a 2009 Stanford Cardinal team that went to the NCAA championship for the first time in school history.
"Now Stanford is a perennial top team every year," she says with pride. "That wasn't always the case. I'm proud to have helped establish the Cardinal as top program."
Riley was born in America, but her father hails from New Zealand and therefore she was able to play for New Zealand's international team in the 2007 FIFA World Cup.
"I was so eager to get involved in soccer on an international level and represent myself as a Kiwi," says Riley.
Doing both advances soccer domestically in America playing for the Flash and abroad in representing New Zealand.
"I guess I consider myself a pioneer when it comes to showing the world what an amazing sport soccer can be," says the 5-foot-4 defensive sparkplug.
From a successful career at Stanford, to international play in the World Cup and the 2008 Olympics, in which she played every minute of every match, Riley has come a long way but there was still doubt in the early going.
"During the 2010 WPS draft, I watched alone because I was certain I wouldn't get picked," says Riley, who was selected in the first round, 10th overall.
Morgan spent her days at Cal on the collegiate level where she graduated early in order to fully pursue her professional career.
"During the offseason, in the fall and summer, I'd rack up as many credits as I could," says the Diamond Bar, Calif., native.
That often meant taking 16-18 credits per semester, a grueling undertaking, but one that clearly paid off.
With a spectacular performance in this year's World Cup, Morgan became a household name -she gained over 150,000 Twitter followers practically overnight! - but has always remained humble.
"I want to continue to get better. I still have so much to improve upon," Morgan says. She scored 45 goals in her career as a Golden Bear, good for third all-time in the school's history and she will again help lead the women's national team when the Olympics arrive in 2012.
All three West Coast players firmly agree on one thing: upstate New York is cold.
"It took some adjusting, but we love it here," says Riley. "I just hope we can keep playing together!"
In the coming weeks, stay tuned for in-depth profiles on Morgan, Zerboni and Riley and in the interim, tune in Saturday at 1:00 p.m. PT on FOX Sports Net when The Flash take on the Philadelphia Independence in the WPS league championship at Shalen's Stadium in Rochester, New York.