USWNT gets big boost as Julie Ertz returns for last camp before World Cup roster chosen

Julie Ertz is back, and that is very good news for the U.S. women.

The midfielder is on the U.S. women’s roster for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, selected Tuesday by Vlatko Andonovski for the team’s final games before he names his roster for this summer’s World Cup. Ertz, a two-time World Cup champion, had her first child, son Madden, last August.

"We know the quality of player she is. If she comes anywhere near her best, she will certainly help us win a World Cup," Andonovski said.

"She’ll have to earn her minutes," he added. "Nothing is going to be given."

Camp opens next week, and the USWNT will play friendlies against Ireland on April 8 in Austin, Texas, and April 11 in St. Louis.

Sophia Smith, last year’s NWSL MVP, is also back for the two matches against Ireland next month after missing the team’s earlier training camps this year with a foot injury. Kelley O’Hara, another two-time World Cup champion, returns to the squad for the first time since last summer after recovering from a hip injury.

Though Andonovski will continue monitoring players’ performance in league play, this is their last opportunity to impress him in person before he selects his World Cup team. Not being on this roster doesn’t mean somebody won’t make the cut for this summer’s tournament in Australia and New Zealand – if Megan Rapinoe recovers from her leg injury, she’s all but assured a spot – but it definitely makes it harder to earn a spot.

That makes Ertz’s return all the more important.

"I’ve been training hard, excited to see where I’m at physically and getting better each day," she said in a statement provided 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.”

Julie Ertz is on the U.S. women’s roster for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics.
Julie Ertz is on the U.S. women’s roster for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics.

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Ertz was an integral part of the team that won its second consecutive World Cup title four years ago, and finding someone to replace her has been a challenge. Andonovski was quick to praise Andi Sullivan and the progress she's made, but Ertz has a combination of skills that few other players in the world have.

While she can create opportunities in the midfield, it’s her background as a defender that makes her so invaluable. Ertz is seemingly everywhere on the field, able to close off spaces quickly and neutralize opponents with punishing tackles equally suited for the version of football her husband, Arizona Cardinals tight end Zach Ertz, plays. That gives her more offensive-minded teammates the room to do what they do best.

"Julie Ertz, when at her best, is one of the best players in the world. We saw that in 2019 and saw that in 2015," Andonovski said. "Her quality, the type of player she is, is always welcome on this team.

"This doesn’t mean everyone moves to the side and Julie gets that spot. She needs to come in, she needs to prove herself," he added. "(But) we are going to be as patient as we can afford to be with her."

Ertz has not played competitively since the USWNT beat Australia for the bronze medal in Tokyo in August 2021, and is not currently on an NWSL roster. That's expected to change shortly, with Ertz saying she has to "work out details" of where in the NWSL she'll play.

But if Ertz is fully fit, or close enough that Andonovski and his staff believe she'll get there at some point during the World Cup, she would be a huge advantage for the Americans, who will be trying to become the first team to win three titles in a row.

Andonovski said Ertz has been training with MLS Academy players as well as a high-performance and technical coach and, from what he saw, "she was up to the level a lot of professional players are training (at) and at some point even harder."

"Her mindset is superb," Andonovski said. "She’s fully committed to every aspect of it. … Most importantly, she feels confident she can help this team win another World Cup title."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: USWNT could benefit from Julie Ertz's return with World Cup looming