Commentary

Julie Ertz on 'Chase Your Dreams,' her youth coaches, defending the World Cup title, and the NWSL

Julie Ertz (née Johnston), who was named to the 2015 Women’s World Cup All-Star team after her central defense performance helped the USA lift the title four years ago, heads to this summer’s World Cup in France as a midfielder on Coach Jill Ellis’ team (though she has seen time recently back at center back). The 27-year-old, who grew up in Arizona before starring at Santa Clara University, is in her sixth season with the NWSL's Chicago Stars. Her book, “Chase Your Dreams: How Soccer Taught Me Strength, Perseverance, and Leadership,” comes out July 2.

SOCCER AMERICA: What prompted you to write a book?

JULIE ERTZ: The questions I always get when a young athlete comes up to me is, “What is your advice? What is your advice for young people?”

The more and more I got asked those questions the more I reflected on what I’ve learned, especially through adversity.

I thought this would be a cool way to reach out to young athletes who want to learn about my journey, through not just sports but faith and adversity and what I’ve learned in life.

There are so many things you don’t see behind the scenes in an athlete’s life, besides what's on social media. I felt like I’ve gotten to a point in my career where I wanted to share some of my stories. I think there are things I’ve gone through as a human and as an athlete that young athletes can relate to.

SA: One of the areas you address that I believe can be very helpful to young players is coping with injuries …

JULIE ERTZ: As an athlete, injuries happen, but it’s how you react to it. What can you control while you’re injured? There are things you can’t do physically. But can you learn more about the game? Can you ask more questions? Can you reflect on your game? Can you still be a good teammate?

There are a lot of things that you can internalize and you enclose yourself and be upset. And the grieving thing is a part of being injured, but it’s also a time of reflection. When can you accept it and be able to figure out your plan going forward, and how can you use that adversity to benefit you?

SA: You write in the book that you’ve come back from injuries feeling stronger than before …

JULIE ERTZ: Yeah. Multiple times. During those times of injury I really missed the game so much. When I realized how much I missed it, I didn’t take anything for granted. I came back after having that time to reflect on how much I loved playing, loved being on the team, loved being on the field.

But at the same time, it was time for me to be able to strengthen things maybe I didn’t have time to work on when I was playing. And I ended coming back even stronger and with even more motivation.

"Chase Your Dreams: How Soccer Taught Me Strength, Perseverance, and Leadership," by Julie Ertz, from Christian book publisher Harvest House, will be available in July.

SA: At age 12, you joined the Sereno Soccer Club, and you write about how you enjoyed its coaching approach ...

JULIE ERTZ: The club rotated coaches every two years, which was unique, and I enjoyed it. … When you learn from a variety of people, it makes sense that you’re going to learn a lot.

SA: You go into some detail in the book about the influences of your Sereno coaches Paul Lester, Jason Goodson and Les Armstrong. In a nutshell, what was important to you on how you were coached in youth soccer.

JULIE ERTZ: My coaches cultivated the love of the game for me. We celebrated the wins and we discussed and learned from our losses and mistakes. There was always something to get to, to look for, and to me that was huge. I was always learning. I was always being tested. And having fun. All that combined was great.

SA: How important was being a part of the U.S. youth national team program? I believe it started when you were invited to a U-14 identification camp in 2006.

JULIE ERTZ: It was super beneficial for me because it gave me a vision of where I wanted to go. I never really got to see women’s sports growing up. I saw the national team one time, when they came to Arizona on their Glory Tour in 2000. ...

There were about a 100 of us at the U-14 camp. I don’t remember being that good at all there. But I remember it fostering something that I wanted to be a part of.

When I got called back at U-18, it was a kind of a surreal moment – to wear the same crest that the national team players were wearing. Being in a training environment that replicated what the national team does in a youth program was so beneficial for me and my dreams. It made playing for the national team feel possible.

I knew that I had a long way to go, but the idea and the possibility of it was huge for me.

SA: In 2012, you captained the U.S. team, coached by Steve Swanson, to the U-20 World Cup title and you won the MVP Bronze Ball …

JULIE ERTZ: That solidified what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Hands down. I always said that I wanted to play professionally and I dreamed of it. I loved soccer so much. But I loved the soccer because I just loved playing it. I felt the most me when I was on the field. Nowhere else did I really have that feeling at the time.

Right after that tournament, I knew I wanted to be a professional soccer player, that it was within reach, and there was absolutely nothing else that I wanted to do right now. That’s what I want my career to be.

SA: 2012 was the last time the USA won a youth World Cup. How important are the results at that level? Is the experience what’s so valuable about playing at that level as a young player?

JULIE ERTZ: The experience is great. But winning is important as well. It cultivates a different mindset. I think both. The experience was huge, and winning is huge.

SA: One thing I thought was remarkable about the USA’s 2015 World Cup win was how well your backline played – while committing only 14 fouls in seven games. You personally were only called for two fouls in 630 minutes of soccer.

JULIE ERTZ: Timing is everything as a defender. Our whole team aims to defend well and what that means is not just tackling but tackling and winning the ball. We take pride in that. And we’re aware that set pieces are huge in tournaments, huge in any game, because they give the opponent a scoring chance. We don’t want to give them scoring chances.

SA: What lessons do you and the other veterans take from the 2015 World Cup victory going into this summer’s World Cup?

JULIE ERTZ: Don’t take anything for granted. Don’t look past any game. Don’t look past any moment. Stay focused every minute of the game. Fight through the entire game for each other and put away your chances.

Julie Ertz vs. Alex Morgan in NWSL action. Photo by Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire

SA: You joined the Chicago Red Stars in 2014 at age 22. How well does playing in the NWSL prepare you for World Cup competition?

JULIE ERTZ: You run a lot in the NWSL. It’s definitely good training. Every year it’s gotten better. I’ve really enjoyed my team in Chicago. I started with a really really young team, so I’ve played with these girls for a long time and it’s been great to be pushed by them. It’s a different role for me there that I really appreciate. Being with them and having their support helps with my confidence.

SA: You’re famous for your versatility. Playing in midfield and as a forward in college, but then starring in central defense at a World Cup. How important was playing different positions for you and is that something you recommend to young players?

JULIE ERTZ: For me, fortunately, it worked out the greatest because I learned a lot in each position. And playing in one position taught me something about how to play another position.

I’m not going to tell a player not to specialize in something. Do what your heart desires because you love the sport so much. But I recommend an open mind to learning a new position. Embrace the opportunity because if you’re asked to play something else it could help you in your designated position.

I enjoyed playing different positions because the way I play, I needed it.

SA: Do you have a preference of which position to play?

JULIE ERTZ: No. I just like to be on field.

5 comments about "Julie Ertz on 'Chase Your Dreams,' her youth coaches, defending the World Cup title, and the NWSL".
  1. Bob Ashpole, May 16, 2019 at 2:10 p.m.

    The single most important, and hopefully, influential statement she could make:

    "Timing is everything as a defender. Our whole team aims to defend well and what that means is not just tackling but tackling and winning the ball. We take pride in that. And we’re aware that set pieces are huge in tournaments, huge in any game, because they give the opponent a scoring chance. We don’t want to give them scoring chances."

    Great interview Mike.

  2. uffe gustafsson, May 16, 2019 at 10:09 p.m.

    Wish u asked what happened between U14 and U 18 call ups. Was she a late bloomer?

  3. Mike Lynch, May 17, 2019 at 9:17 p.m.

    Great interview Mike! I don't see a path this WC without Ertz somewhere a part of it. Her leadership and example is big and dependable (two keys our top players need to bring). I still believe her best position is CB, but I understand Coach Ellis having to test out all the looks with a fragile Horan and questionable midfield. Hopefully Horan will get and stay healthy enough to find her best role this WC, perhaps with Mews and Lavelle, thus allowing Ertz to stay on D. We will all know soon enough! Can't wait!

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, May 18, 2019 at 2:38 p.m.

    Mike, the question that should be asked is what role for Ertz makes for the strongest team.

    In practice it is never possible to play everyone in their "best" position. Coaches have to assign positions based on who is available for a match.

    There is no qestion that the USWNT plays much better with Ertz at CM rather than at CB. She would probably excel at any position. She has the mentality and the ability.

  5. uffe gustafsson, May 19, 2019 at 9:04 p.m.

    For all the crap some of you give the coach, playing Ertz at defensive mid been a huge success.
    thats where she does her best job and we already have two great CB.

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