October 26, 2020

The Evolution of Julie Ertz

On February 9, 2013, Tom Sermanni, then the head coach of the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, made sub in the 83rd minute. Coming in for Becky Sauerbruun was a young player fresh out of Santa Clara University, eager to play her first game for the national team, sporting a bright blue headband that would become her signature mark in years to come. That player’s name was Julie Johnston, and she would evolve from a nervous, 21-year old center back to a strong, confident center midfielder, as well as one of the most vital and consistent players in the current head coach Vlatko Andonovski’s arsenal. Julie Ertz, who changed her last name after her marriage to Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz in 2017, recently made her 100th appearance in the stars and stripes, has proved over the past seven years how much talent she has, and how important she is to her club and country.

Ertz as a Rookie

Ertz debuted for the United States at the young age of 21, and for nearly every game she played as a center back, she played alongside Becky Sauerbruun, who is considered one of the best defenders in the world. Ertz, then Johnston, benefited greatly from playing with Sauerbruun, learning a multitude of skills from Sauerbruun’s comforting, veteran presence, and quiet leadership. Ertz even went as far as to say that from all the time she had played next to Sauerbruun, her “nerves had been cut in half.” Ertz was invited to several training camps and played in multiple games before the biggest moment of her career thus far: Jill Ellis, who had taken over as head coach after Tom Sermanni, named Ertz to the 2015 Women’s World Cup squad. Ertz played every minute of every game for the United States and learned many valuable lessons throughout the tournament. In the semi-final game against Germany, Ertz had to face what Sauerbruun called “the most difficult ball to deal with as a defender,” and ended up pulling down German forward Alexandra Popp, earning herself a yellow card and giving Germany a penalty kick. Ertz also scored an own goal in the World Cup final, but it is safe to say that the tournament was a tremendous learning experience that helped her grow as a player, as well as improve her skills and confidence.

Ertz as a Veteran

In 2017, after a devastating quarterfinal loss in the 2016 Olympics, Jill Ellis began an experimental phase before embarking on the next big challenge, which was the 2019 Women’s World Cup. The Chicago Red Stars, Ertz’s club team in the National Women’s Soccer League, had recently pushed Ertz to the midfield, where she was thriving, and Ellis decided to try the same thing on the national level. Ertz found major success in the role and was named 2017 U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year. This shift was the beginning of Ertz’s emergence as a veteran and a crucial asset to the team. As the U.S. practiced and prepared for the 2019 tournament, it became clear that they couldn’t do it without Julie Ertz. She had grown tremendously from her first cap in 2013 and was one of the strongest, grittiest players on the United States’ roster. Her presence in the midfield has made it much harder for opposing teams to start a counter-attack, as she is not afraid to slide tackle, jump to head, or do anything needed to win a ball and help out on both offense and defense. Andonovski and Ellis have both put in work over the years to help Ertz become more offensively involved, and she has become a target on set pieces.

With two World Cup wins, nearly twenty goals, and one hundred games under her belt, today it is rare that Julie Ertz isn’t on the pitch for the United States, and when she isn’t, there is a noticeable difference in the quality of play and strength in the midfield. She has truly made a difference on the USWNT since her first cap in 2013, with her strength, talent, consistency, and leadership, and there is no denying that without her, the team certainly wouldn’t be the same.