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The case for the most essential USWNT player: Julie Ertz

Julie Ertz last played for the USWNT in the bronze medal match at the Tokyo Olympics. (Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)

Each month in the leadup to the World Cup, Just Women’s Sports will make the case for one player as most essential to the success of the U.S. women’s national team in 2023. Next up: Julie Ertz.

Julie Ertz’s inclusion on the April U.S. women’s national team roster came as a surprise to almost everyone.

After all, the fanbase was preparing for a World Cup without the midfielder – especially after coach Vlatko Andonovski said in February that the team was “probably not going to be able to count on [her] in the World Cup.”

And while the question still remains as to whether or not she will make the trip Down Under this summer, her abilities and the state of the USWNT’s midfield make her one of the most essential players for the team.

Yes, there are risks to her return. But there’s also the possibility of reward if Ertz is at all near her best.

While Andi Sullivan has covered Ertz’s role as well as she could, she is one of a rotation of midfielders trying to work outside of their natural skill sets to fill the hole that Ertz left. And while each of those players makes a worthy addition to the squad, something has been missing. And that something is Ertz.

After all, Ertz is a true No. 6, which the USWNT has not had since she played in the Tokyo Olympics nearly two years ago. While she has remained out of the lineup due to injury and then pregnancy, the USWNT has struggled to find consistency.

That lack of consistency has been frustrating for fans and players alike, and helped contribute to three-straight losses at the end of 2022.

“We’re excited to have Julie back. We know the quality of the player that she is, and that if she comes anywhere near her best, she will certainly help us win a World Cup,” Andonovski told reports after the roster announcement for the April camp.

Still, while Ertz “at her best is one of the best in the world,” as Andonovski said, the 31-year-old midfielder still “has to come in and prove herself.”

A true defensive-minded midfielder like Ertz should help to fill the gaps on the field, and should enable players like Lindsey Horan and Rose Lavelle to revert back to their natural positions, thus creating more scoring opportunities for the USWNT.

And that will become even truer if Catarina Macario can get back to full health in time for the World Cup as well.

While her time away from the game may leave her with questions to answer as the USWNT takes on Ireland, the break also gave her a new perspective. So we could possibly see an even better Ertz on the field.

“I’m proud of the player that I have been able to be, but at the same time, it’s hard to just be complacent … It’s just not in this team’s DNA to do that,” Ertz said Tuesday.

And if you ask her, she’s embracing the pressures that come with stepping into camp with so little time before the World Cup, which kicks off on July 20.

“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.

“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.”

No, she hasn’t played in a professional match in almost two years, a fact she is working on rectifying. But if you ask other players, having Ertz back has been good. Really good.

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

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