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Vlatko Andonovski won’t commit to Julie Ertz at center-back

(Hannah Peters - FIFA via Getty Images)

In the lead-up to the 2023 World Cup, one of the biggest questions USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski faced was, if Julie Ertz didn’t return, who could play the No. 6 position?

Without Julie Ertz — who was absent from the national team for nearly two years, due to injury and then maternity leave — Andonovski tried out a few options for the defensive midfielder position, from Andi Sullivan to Taylor Kornieck to Kristie Mewis. But it was clear that Ertz, the team’s only true No. 6 in recent years, was missed. And so, when Ertz made her last-minute return to the national team ahead of the World Cup, it felt like a given that she would return to that spot.

But on Friday, when the U.S. lined up against Vietnam for its tournament opener in Auckland, New Zealand, Ertz was stationed at center back, playing alongside World Cup rookie Naomi Girma.

Andonovski said that, after veteran defender Becky Sauerbrunn was ruled out of the World Cup with injury, he started thinking more seriously about moving Ertz back.

“When we knew that Becky is not going to be able to make it, that’s something we started looking into even deeper,” Andonovski told reporters after the U.S. team’s 3-0 win over Vietnam. “We had a conversation with Julie before we even tried, did a lot of work before we got into (pre-World Cup) camp in terms of video analysis.”

But Andonovski declined to specify whether Ertz will stay in that position for the rest of the World Cup tournament.

“I think that today it showed how good she can be in the backline in possession and out of possession. So I’m glad we made that decision and I know that the back line is just going to get better and better going forward,” he said.

“It was great playing with Julie — a lot of communication, she has so much experience back there,” Girma told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I think us developing our partnership and our relationship will be huge.”

Ertz returned the praise onto her new defensive partner: “Nay’s world-class as well, so that sure helps for me getting back after not playing there in a while.”