Julie Ertz celebrates a goal in front of Vlatko Andonovski during a training session on Jan. 12, 2021, in Orlando. The USWNT coach's admiration for the midfield star remains strong. Photo: Brad Smith/ISI Photos
Julie Ertz, who hasn't played for the U.S. national team since the Tokyo Olympics 19 months ago, is back.
So, too, from maternity leave is Casey Krueger.
And back from long-term injuries for a pair of April friendlies against Ireland are defenders Kelley O’Hara (absent from the national team since July 2022) and Tierna Davidson (absent since February 2022).
Also returning after missing the first five games of 2023 is Sophia Smith, who was healing a foot injury.
There are still some notable absences: Megan Rapinoe (dealing with a lower leg injury) and Catarina Macario (finally expected back in April at Lyon after being out 10 months with an ACL knee injury).
But the roster of 26 players for games April 8 in Austin and April 11 in St. Louis will provide plenty of competition as U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski gets his last chance to bring players into camp before he must name the 23 players he will take to the World Cup July 20-Aug. 20 in Australia and New Zealand.
The big news — a shocker in many ways — is the return of Ertz, who started for the USA when it won the 2015 and 2019 World Cups and whose play in central midfield made her one of the best players in the world.
But she played only one NWSL regular-season game in the last three-plus seasons, spraining her MCL in her right knee in the 2021 season opener with the Chicago Red Stars. Her NWSL rights were traded to expansion Angel City FC in 2022, but she did not play as she gave her birth to her first child, a boy named Madden, on Aug. 11, 2022.
As recently as February, ahead of the SheBelieves Cup, Andonovski seemed to discount the possibility of Ertz's return in 2023.
“Julie Ertz is someone that, obviously, we see that she hasn’t committed to any training [or] team in the league so far,” Andonovski said. “And the time is running out pretty much for her as well, and she’s someone that we’re probably not going to be able to count on in the World Cup.”
But on Tuesday Andonovski revealed he had recently visited with Ertz and said she had been working with a high performance trainer and practicing with an MLS Next academy boys team.
"I've been training hard, excited to see where I'm at physically and getting better each day," Ertz said in a statement released by U.S. Soccer. "I am going into this camp the same way I always have, to compete with the best women in the world."
Andonovski praised Ertz's commitment to the USWNT for which she has been capped 116 times, most recently in the 4-3 win over Australia in the Olympic bronze-medal game in 2021.
“She’s committed to the game, she’s committed to this team, and when I say committed — fully committed in every aspect of it," he said. "She’s ready physically, she’s ready mentally, she’s excited to be back in the environment. Most importantly, she feels confident that she can help this team win another title, and, for me, that’s what matters the most.”
Ertz came back from the knee injury suffered in April 2021 and was selected to the Olympic team without playing any NWSL games. She played 524 of the 570 minutes in Japan, though she was not the dominant player she had been in France two years earlier when the USA won the World Cup title for the fourth time. At the Olympics, the USA finished with a 2-2-2 record — it beat the Netherlands in a shootout after a 2-2 tie in the quarterfinals — and conceded 10 goals.
Of the generation of USWNT players who have come along in the last 15 years, Ertz in her position as holding midfielder has been the most irreplaceable. In her place, Andi Sullivan has started 18 of 23 games the USWNT has played in 2022-23. But the U.S. midfield has not been as dominant as it was four years ago, as a string of three losses to England, Spain and Germany last fall underscored. (Also missing from the 2019 World Cup team in midfield is Sam Mewis, out with a knee injury.)
Early in Andonovski's tenure, he made it clear how much he values Ertz.
"I don’t know if I can say this, but I start getting the feeling that Julie Ertz might be the most important player for this squad,” Andonovski said during the 2020 SheBelieves Cup. “I didn’t know that until I started working with this team, but the more we work and the more we play and the more games we get, I just start getting the feeling like this team revolves around her.”
Ertz, who turns 31 next week. will still need to resume club ball — Andonovski said she is “in negotiation with a team and/or teams” — but he seems to have the same opinion of the Arizona native that he had three years ago.
“If somebody's 80 or 90 percent is still better than somebody else's best, then too bad," he said. "Anyone that will help us win the World Cup will be considered and will be taken to the World Cup."
USWNT Roster (April 2023):
Player (Club) GP/G (Age)
Adrianna Franch (KC Current) 10/0 (32)
Casey Murphy (NC Courage) 13/0 (26)
Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars) 89/0 (34)
Player (Club) GP/G (Age)
Alana Cook (OL Reign) 23/0 (25)
Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars) 48/1 (24)
Emily Fox (NC Courage) 27/0 (24)
Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns) 130/24 (30)
Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave) 14/0 (22)
Sofia Huerta (OL Reign) 28/0 (30)
Casey Krueger (Chicago Red Stars) 37/0 (32)
Kelley O’Hara (Gotham FC) 156/3 (34)
Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns) 214/0 (37)
Emily Sonnett (OL Reign) 73/1 (29)
Player (Club) GP/G (Age)
Julie Ertz (Unattached) 116/20 (30)
Lindsey Horan (Lyon, FRA) 126/26 (28)
Taylor Kornieck (San Diego Wave) 12/2 (24)
Rose Lavelle (OL Reign) 87/24 (27)
Kristie Mewis (Gotham FC) 50/7 (32)
Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit) 22/3 (24)
Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit) 42/3 (27)
Player (Club) GP/G (Age)
Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit) 17/5 (27)
Alex Morgan (San Diego Wave) 204/121 (33)
Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit) 15/2 (20)
Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns) 27/12 (22)
Mallory Swanson (Chicago Red Stars) 87/32 (24)
Lynn Williams (Gotham FC) 52/15 (29)
Note: Ertz turns 31 on April 6; Cook turns 26 on April 11.
Is Ertz more needed at the CB position than as a lone 8? I've read Sauerbrunn is the only strong passing CB. If Vlatko won't trust Girma as a WC starter, should he choose Ertz instead?
Game Changer.!!!... If she can get Up To Speed.!!!
While this is good news about Ertz, I think the news about the other returning players has more potential benefit to the USWNT this year. The competitive focus should be on now, not 2019 or next year or even next fall. Ertz hasn't played or even been to a camp in two years.
I would rather dream about winning the lottery then engage in "what ifs" about Ertz at this early of a point in her return.
What is the big deal about Ertz ?
Ertz used to be a CB, then I believe Ellis moved her to the 8 in 4-3-3. Since she's been out the Nats have had to try various personnel and formation changes as replacements haven't measured up to Ertz. Maybe Bob can chime in, as he seems to have studied this more than most.
R2, good suggestion, ...what it about it Bob?
She's the Glue, that holds the Whole thing Together...
Kinda like Adams for the Men's Team.
You don't have to Change your Shape or Tactical Set-Up, when She is There... (AND Healthy.!!!)
Super Turbo. Lots of mentality, athleticism and soccer IQ. Technically limited.
R2, Ellis moved Ertz to the pivot not because she excelled there, but because the team played better with her at that position. I think Sullivan does as well at the 6 and Horan is much better with the ball. In possession Ertz's "game changing" was largely related to her going forward off the ball. She can still do that as a CB. I think Horan is better used as an 8 or 10. Ertz's greatest value is that she can play both CB and pivot.
Also you shouldn't think of this in terms of the best 11 players. It is not league play. There is no time to fully recover between matches so you need 20 fieldplayers who are "starters". No one is better than Jill Ellis at managing fatigue. This is why I am happy to see more veterans become available.
I think Abby Dahlkemper would be excellent at pivot as well. She is better on the ball than Ertz. I think she best fits what Frank wants to see in a CB. What Ellis actually did in 2019 was use Ertz as 6 in front of Becky Sauerbaum and Dahlkemper, getting all three great central defenders on the field.
This is not a negative statement about Sauerbaum, but the fact that she is still a first choice CB ought to send warning alarm bells to people who know the game.
There is not a more tenacious ball winner now, nor in the last 10 yrs, on the uswnt. She not only can destroy, but transition into attack at speed. I would take her at 75% vs Sullivan at 105%. And that's before you add in her defacto leadership position on the team.
Julie Ertz is the best holding midfielder in the game. Her return is GREAT news for the USWNT. Her play in front of the back line too often goes unnoticed by soccer dingbats (you know those folks who wouldn't know a 4-3-3 from a hockey line change). The USWNT is much much better with Ertz in the lineup.