All Scores

Julie Ertz on USWNT return: ‘I want to be better’

(Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

When asked what led to her return to the U.S. women’s national team after over a year away from professional soccer, Julie Ertz didn’t mince words.

“I probably am back because I do love competing. I love playing the sport, I thoroughly enjoy it,” she told reporters Tuesday. “In the back of your head, it’s hard to not have that itch when you’re just so used to being so competitive.”

Ertz is participating in USWNT camp this week, her first one since August 2021. As the USWNT prepares to play two friendlies against the Republic of Ireland, Ertz will be competing for a spot on the 2023 World Cup roster, a somewhat surprising development after head coach Vlatko Andonovski had said the 30-year-old was running out of time to get a look with the team.

Ertz’s decision to return came after long conversations with husband Zach, a tight end for the Arizona Cardinals, not least because now she returns to the team as a mother. Ertz had her first child, son Madden, in August 2022.

“I love the sport differently than I did then, and I thought I loved it then. But taking a step away and kind of having a new perspective has given me kind of like a new drive,” Ertz said, explaining the thought process that brought her back to the sport after not being sure she’d return to the team in time for this summer’s major tournament.

“There definitely was a switch when I had a really long conversation with Zach. And I think when you have two athletes probably closer towards [the end], not the beginning of their career, it’s emotional. It’s emotional conversations, but also very touching, and real and raw.”

Ertz rejoins a USWNT that has changed significantly from the squad that earned a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics, where the midfielder briefly returned from a knee injury that has kept her away from the NWSL since May 2021. There is still room, however, for the two-time World Champion, who brings experience and a specific skill set to the defensive midfield that the team has struggled to replace.

Ertz’s surprise return raised a number of follow-up questions that she answered in some detail on Tuesday. She is in talks with multiple NWSL teams (though she would not say which ones), and she hopes to be back on an NWSL field soon. She was able to work out consistently during her pregnancy, with support from both U.S. Soccer and resources in her home state of Arizona.

She credited fellow NWSL moms Cheyna Matthews and Kealia Watt for sharing their experiences with her, and said that she and Watt (another free agent) worked out together after their pregnancies. She’s also been in consistent contact with Andonovski, describing how she became a student of the current style of the USWNT before she was physically ready to return.

What hasn’t changed for Ertz is her mentality, and the veteran leadership she immediately infuses into a USWNT squad that’s much younger than it was in 2021.

“Obviously, she’s a talented player,” said USWNT teammate Sophia Smith. “She’s been at the highest stage, she’s won everything you could win. So it’s always a good thing to have someone with so much experience back in camp.”

Until she makes her 2023 debut, it will be difficult to gauge where Ertz stands with respect to fitness and mental sharpness, but she doesn’t intend to rest on her reputation.

“The energy she’s been bringing is great. And technically, she looks like she hasn’t missed a beat,” says Smith.

“I’m in a good headspace to just understand, to give myself a little bit of grace,” Ertz echoes. “But overall, I feel like being in this environment, you know the game.”

She will face pressure to perform right away, and the 30-year-old isn’t shying away from the competitiveness that inspired her return in the first place.

“I’ve learned that pressure is a privilege. And there’s always been pressure in any position, any time of my career,” she said. “I don’t want to go back and be the player that I was, I want to be better.”

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

New Washington Spirit Head Coach Jonatan Giráldez Arrives in DC

head coach Jonatan Giráldez
Jonatan Giráldez joins the NWSL from FC Barcelona Femení. (Ramsey Cardy/UEFA via Getty Images)

Five months after announcing that the Washington Spirit had hired Barcelona Femení coach Jonatan Giráldez as the team's new head coach, Giráldez has joined the club in Washington, DC.

Giráldez is coming off of a successful season with the Spanish side, having won UEFA Women's Champions League, Copa de la Reina, Supercopa, and Liga F in his final season to complete a lauded Quadruple.

While Giráldez was finishing out his tenure in Europe, Adrián González filled in as Spirit interim head coach. González has also seen success, leading the team to its third-place standing with a 9-3-1 record through 13 games.

“I’m thrilled to join the Spirit and begin this next chapter with the club,” Giráldez said in an official team statement. “To be part of the vision Michele Kang has for the Spirit and women’s soccer globally is an exciting opportunity.”

Giráldez has worked at Barcelona since 2019, initially coming on as an assistant coach before moving up to head coach in 2021. The team went 30-0-0 on the season under Giráldez during his first year as manager.

He brings along with him Andrés González and Toni Gordo, who will serve as the Spirit's Fitness Coach and Club Analyst, respectively.

US Track & Field Olympic Trials Touch Down in Oregon

Sha’Carri Richardson competes in the women’s 200-meter preliminary round during the USATF Outdoor Championships
Sha’Carri Richardson will have some competition this week as athletes vie for an Olympic berth. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Track & Field Trials begin on June 21st, kicking off a 10-day quest to determine who will represent the US in Paris this summer.

The crucial meet will take place in Eugene, Oregon, where the top three finishers in each event will punch their ticket to the 2024 Olympics. As with this past week's US Swimming Trials, even the most decorated athletes must work to earn their spot — and one bad performance could undermine four years of preparation.

Reigning 100-meter World Champion Sha'Carri Richardson headlines this year's field, as the 24-year-old looks to qualify for her second Olympic Games and compete in her first. Richardson is a world champion in both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint, but missed the Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for THC shortly after the last US Olympic Trials.

Other standouts include 400-meter Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who's currently the most decorated athlete in the active women's US Track & Field pool. McLaughlin-Levrone qualified to run in the 200-meter and 400-meter flat races alongside the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic Trials, but opted to focus solely on her signature event.

800-meter specialist Athing Mu will also be a huge draw this week, as the Olympic gold medalist looks to shake off a lingering hamstring injury while pursuing her second Summer Games. Gold medal-winning pole vaulter Katie Moon will also attempt to qualify for her second-straight Olympic Games.

Ole Miss star McKenzie Long could be Richardson's greatest competition in the 100-meter and 200-meter events, as well as Richardson's Worlds teammate Gabby Thomas in the 200-meter. In field events, watch for Oregon senior Jaida Ross going head-to-head with reigning world champion Chase Jackson in the shot put, as both push for their first Olympic team berth.

Regardless of why you tune in, the US Olympic Trials are a perpetually thrilling and sometimes brutal qualification process. If you're able to make your way to the head of the pack, a shot at Olympic glory might just be waiting at the finish line.

Fans can catch live coverage throughout the Trials via NBC, USA, and Peacock.

Top Teams Square Off in NWSL Weekend Slate

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda
Orlando Pride, led by forward Barbra Banda, will take on Utah in this weekend's NWSL action. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As the NWSL season continues, a few top-performing clubs will have a chance to boost their standings this weekend.

First-place Kansas City will travel to Providence Park to take on fifth-place Portland, as the Current look to keep their unbeaten streak intact. And in New Jersey, third-place Washington will take on fourth-place Gotham FC, with both teams attempting to extend multi-game unbeaten streaks.

A six-point gap has opened between the fifth and sixth spot on the NWSL table — with just six points also separating the league's top five. Kansas City, Orlando, Washington, Gotham, and Portland have recently proven themselves to be a cut above the rest of the competition. With eight postseason spots up for grabs and half the season behind us, a pattern is forming that indicates the playoff race could come down to spots six through eight on the NWSL table.

Of those top five teams, only Orlando faces an opponent in the bottom half of the league this weekend: The Pride will take on 14th-place Utah, who nonetheless are coming off a win — just their second of the season — over Bay FC last weekend.

But despite Kansas City and Orlando having yet to lose a game, Gotham might be the squad coming into the weekend with the most momentum.

Clutch goals from Rose Lavelle and rookie Maycee Bell gave the Bats a 2-0 midweek win over San Diego on Wednesday, in a rematch of the 2024 Challenge Cup. Gotham's unbeaten streak dates all the way back to April, as rising availability and sharpened form have honed this year's superteam into a contender.

Bottom line? As the NWSL season passes the halfway mark, some matches might begin to feel more like playoff previews than mere regular season battles.

Chelsea Gray Returns From Injury in Aces Win Over Seattle

las vegas aces chelsea gray and kelsey plum celebrate a win over the seattle storm
Gray has been sidelined with a foot injury since the 2023 WNBA Finals. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray made her return to the basketball court on Wednesday, helping the Aces to a 94-83 win over the Seattle Storm. 

The lauded point guard missed the first 12 games of the season, having been injured in last year’s WNBA Finals. The left foot injury caused her to miss Game 4 of the championship series, and she’s continued to rehab it through the beginning of the 2024 season. 

Her return on Wednesday was capitalized by the fact that she needed just 20 seconds to make an impact and record her first assist. While she finished with just one point, she had seven assists, four rebounds, and two blocks to go alongside it in 15:30 minutes. Gray's contributions on the night brought her career assist record up to 1,500.

"I probably went through every emotion leading up to today," Gray said after the game. "I was a little anxious all day. It's been a long time since I've been out on that court. But the fans were amazing from the time I came out to warm up to the time I checked in the game. It was a rush and a feeling I missed a lot."

It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far for Las Vegas, who have lost five of their last seven games. Gray, who averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in 2023, has proven herself a much-needed addition to the team’s lineup.

"Felt like my heart," Aces coach Becky Hammon said when asked how she felt hearing the crowd erupt for Gray's return. "She's the leader of our team. I thought she did a wonderful job too."

Start your morning off right with Just Women’s Sports’ free, 5x-a-week newsletter.