The Soccer Tournament is adding a women’s field after debuting this summer, and Heather O’Reilly has even bigger plans for the players she wants to recruit to her team competing in the event.

The 7-on-7, winner-take-all event debuted in June with a grand prize of $1 million. Former U.S. women’s national team star O’Reilly entered an all-women team in the tournament, which was otherwise made up of all men.

Now, the event is introducing a women’s field thanks to the help of O’Reilly’s squad, which included former national team players, was coached by Mia Hamm and drew widespread support. The 2024 women’s tournament will award a separate $1 million prize to the winner in an effort to ensure equal pay.

“We were blown away last year [summer 2023] by the reception that Heather O’Reilly’s U.S. Women team got down in North Carolina,” Jon Mugar, the founder and CEO of The Tournaments, told ESPN. “There were a lot of people there cheering them on specifically and getting to know Heather throughout the process. We quickly got to talking about, ‘Hey, what would this look like if we were to break out a women’s bracket with a separate and equal million-dollar prize?'”

Even if the tournament hadn’t added a women’s bracket, O’Reilly and her team would have returned to competition. But now, more women will have the chance to play as part of an eight-team field, smaller than the men’s 48-team field.

“I’m thrilled to take part again in it this year, and I think it’s a huge statement that TST and the organizers have committed to equal prize money,” O’Reilly told ESPN. “The statement that it makes and the feeling around equality, I think is super special.”

O’Reilly, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion with the USWNT, says she’s going to be calling up some old U.S. teammates who recently retired. The tournament will return to Cary, N.C. and take place June 5-10.

“I’m a competitor and I like our chances,” O’Reilly said. “I’m definitely going to be calling a lot of the household names that everybody can imagine that just retired, like Ali Krieger, Julie Ertz, Carli Lloyd. I can promise that we’ll get some big names there. We’re four hours away from a million-dollar prize.”

Carli Lloyd doesn’t believe any current player on the U.S. women’s national team roster possesses a championship mentality.

In an interview with “Kickin’ It” on CBS Sports, Lloyd, 41, spoke about her time with the national team, but she also addressed the current state of the team – as she has done often since her retirement in 2021.

Her latest critiques echoed those she has made before, both in the immediate aftermath of her retirement and in her role as a broadcast analyst for the 2023 World Cup. Her biggest gripes revolve around the mentality of the players rather than analysis of their play.

While such analysis could have a place, Lloyd wields it against the USWNT players, some of whom are her former teammates. Lloyd, though, sees even her harshest criticism as an “honest assessment,” sans “fluff.”

One of her honest assessments? There is “so much fundamentally wrong” with the USWNT program, and a fix will require more than a new head coach coming in and switching up the team’s tactics, she told CBS Sports.

“The champion mentality that we’ve had throughout the years, since the inception of this team, that dog mentality, you’ve got none of that,” she said. “The character, the respect — technically, tactically, you could be great and have a coach that comes in, but if you don’t have all those other things, there’s no winning … I look at the U.S. women’s national team, Julie Ertz just left, but aside from her, I don’t see one player that has that mindset.”

She later conceded that World Cup co-captain Lindsey Horan displays a similar mentality. Still, she said, there’s “not many of them that can.” For Lloyd, that reflects a stark contrast from her time on the team, when “a plethora” of players had that determination.

And Lloyd also doesn’t care how people respond when she does speak her truth, or so she claims.

“I lived and breathed it like I feel comfortable and confident to be able to sit here, to be able to be on TV and and say what I said, because I walked the walk,” she said. “I did it every single day from start to finish for 17 years straight. Whether I was a starter or whether I was, at one point in 2019 World Cup for a period of three years I was a sub, so it didn’t matter. I thought that that was my obligation from the previous generation of players to continue to pass that down.”

In reference to the 2023 World Cup, Lloyd called out U.S. Soccer for adjusting the hotel room thermostats to players’ desired temperature levels before they arrived. She also once again took issue with the players for wearing sunglasses and dancing before matches.

“If I saw that, if I was a part of that team, I would raise hell and I would go directly to the players and tell them to take their sunglasses off and stop dancing,” she said.

To her, those actions were a sign of players “taking every moment for granted,” rather than getting loose or remaining steadfast in one of the biggest moments of their careers. Instead, Lloyd questioned their toughness.

“It has to be hard,” she said about playing for the USWNT. “I think all these players want to come in, want to feel comfortable, want to express themselves. It doesn’t work like that. Just do your job, come in, put the work in.”

Everybody has a Julie Ertz story. And on the latest episode of the “Snacks” podcast, Lynn Williams shared one of Ertz’s tenacity.

Ertz said goodbye to soccer, and to the U.S. women’s national team, last Thursday in her final game. In a “Behind the Crest” video from U.S. Soccer, the 31-year-old midfielder opened up about her career, saying she feels “blessed.”

“I feel like I’ve been so blessed to have the career that I’ve had, but it is, like, emotional, I think,” she said. “But then there’s just some part in your heart that is just like, you just know. And I think that is closure enough for me. And I think that’s why I’m just so grateful to have this last game to just close the chapter and say bye. I think anytime you say bye, it’s just sad, but also at the same time what a joyous time it is to reflect.”

One of those moments to reflect upon comes from Ertz’s early days with the national team. As Williams told Sam Mewis on their Just Women’s Sports podcast, USWNT players were talking about one of Ertz’s first opportunities with the national team ahead of her final match.

The tale featured Ertz as the fourth-string center-back for the USWNT. But a series of injuries forced Ertz into the starting lineup.

“I think that everybody can recognize the impact Julie has had on the game and on the national team,” Williams said. “… From that moment she just was like, ‘You know what, I’m gonna take my opportunity and run with it.’ And I thought that that was such a good message for everybody who wants to be on the national team.

“You never know when your opportunity is gonna come, and you never know how you’re gonna get it. Just continue to stay ready and when you do get that opportunity make the most of it. And I felt like that was just her career summed up in one moment. She just made the most of every single opportunity she got on the field.”

@justwomenssports “She just made the most of every single opportunity she got on the field” 🔥 #julieertz #uswnt #ussoccer ♬ original sound - Just Women’s Sports

The U.S. women’s national team said goodbye to two greats this month in Julie Ertz and Megan Rapinoe. And the private retirement meetings between the teams’ players turn into a “sob fest,” Sam Mewis shared on the latest episode of “Snacks.”

Those pregame meetings take place before every USWNT retirement, with U.S. Soccer playing a video of that player’s highlights and important moments from their career. Similar meetings after a player’s 100th appearance, too.

“Players who are really close to them get up and say a few words about the player,” Mewis said the Just Women’s Sports podcast. “And it’s always, like, a sob fest, because obviously you’re there to talk about somebody who means so much to you.

“Whether they’re leaving or they’ve reached this milestone, it’s always just a really emotional day.”

Her “Snacks” co-host and USWNT teammate Lynn Williams also noted that it’s “weird” that the team holds the meetings before the games, as players are left full of emotions. So with Rapinoe, who played in her final national team match Sunday, the team switched it up after the emotional wringer of Ertz’s retirement.

“With Pinoe’s, we did it the night before just because with Julie’s, we were like, ‘Alright, we can’t be doing this before the game,’” Williams said. “But it was so good. … Julie stepped onto the national team, was such a force and took her opportunity. … I felt like that was just like her career summed up in one moment, she just made the most of every single opportunity she got on the field.”

As Julie Ertz played in her final match for the U.S. women’s national team, teammates and legends took the time to share their appreciation for the retiring star.

Carli Lloyd, who played with Ertz from Ertz’s start with the national team in 2013 to her own retirement in 2021, reminisced about their offseason training sessions and mealtime chats in a social media post.

“What I love about you is that you just rolled your sleeves up every single day and competed,” Lloyd wrote. “Whether you were starting or coming off the bench, you would always do what the team needed and you could always be counted on. … You displayed what this team is all about and what mentality is needed to help the team be successful.”

While Mia Hamm’s time with the national team did not overlap with Ertz, the all-time great also applauded Ertz upon her retirement, writing on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter: “Thank you for all you have done for the team, the country and the game.”

Ahead of Thursday’s 3-0 win against South Africa, which saw Ertz wear the captain’s armband for her swan song, her current teammates shared their memories in a series of videos posted to the USWNT’s social media accounts.

“What you do on and off the field, how you prepare yourself, how you approach the game, your mentality every single day in training, in games, in video, walking around with an iPad at all times — you just, you love it,” fellow midfielder Lindsey Horan said. “You love learning. You love working. And all of these things are such an inspiration to me.”

Alex Morgan praised Ertz’s tenacity and courage, while Alyssa Naeher highlighted her passion and emotion. And Crystal Dunn shared their parallel journeys with the national team.

“You and I have stepped onto this team pretty much at the same exact time,” Dunn said. “We got our caps at the same time. You’re somebody who shared a lot of similar moments and memories in our early stages of getting onto this team. And it’s been such a joy to be able to cheer you on.”

CINCINNATI — The U.S. women’s national team played their first match after a disappointing World Cup campaign on Thursday, defeating South Africa 3-0 in Julie Ertz’s final appearance with the team. Ertz’s goodbye came with a lot of emotions, both in public and in the locker room, as the U.S. began to turn the page from the Vlatko Andonovski era.

It’s difficult to draw any definitive conclusions from friendlies, but the U.S. showed clear positive signs in Thursday’s victory, putting together a performance that any prospective new coach could get excited about. Here are a few reasons to think that the former World No. 1 team can steady the ship in 2024.

Passing of the guard

USWNT sendoff games could be considered unnecessary pomp and circumstance for individual players, but it was clear that getting a chance to say thank you to Ertz meant more to U.S. players than a nice slogan.

Longtime teammates coming back together for a curtain call after a disappointing World Cup campaign provided a sense of closure to the team’s 2023. The game also held important locker room threads together that the USWNT has long prized. It’s been easy to take for granted that young players coming into the U.S. environment would always have Ertz and Megan Rapinoe to guide and set standards, but with their departures, that particular mentorship becomes precious.

“Having [Ertz] here, and working with her a little bit at Angel City, it was just something that — I haven’t been able to see her in this environment before,” said defender M.A. Vignola, who made her USWNT debut Thursday. “I just came in with high expectations for myself, but also ready to learn and to take the notes of people like Julie and people like Megan and Alex, and having those people around me was something that I’ve dreamed of.”

Vignola was the only player to earn her first U.S. cap on Thursday, but other newcomers like Jaedyn Shaw and Mia Fishel are gaining valuable experience with those veterans still in place. As the U.S. naturally evolves over the next few years, maintaining that generational through-line will continue to be important.

M.A. Vignola made her debut with the USWNT on the same night Julie Ertz played in her last game. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

The Sweden formation

A new coach will likely re-evaluate all aspects of the way the USWNT plays, including both personnel and style. But under interim manager Twila Kilgore, they simply leaned into what was already working.

The U.S. played in the same 4-2-3-1 formation on Thursday as they did against Sweden in the Round of 16, a game players have said was their best performance of the tournament. Emily Sonnett again slotted into the defensive midfield, and Lindsey Horan took the most advanced midfield position to control the flow of possession.

“The expectation within the group was to build off the Sweden match,” Kilgore said after the game. “So part of that has to do with formation, but formation, sometimes it’s just five yards here and five yards there. But really the idea was to build off of our play against Sweden.”

The system works well for this particular roster, as Sonnett provided defensive cover to allow first Ertz and then Horan to push forward and distribute the ball to the forward line. Emily Fox had a certain amount of freedom at outside-back to make runs both to expand the team’s width and to cut inside. Lynn Williams and Trinity Rodman were also effective as wingers in a way the U.S. couldn’t quite capture in Australia and New Zealand.

While the USWNT didn’t play with freedom immediately in their first game after Andonovski’s exit, they did warm into the first half with a lightness they’ll look to bring into their future games, prior to hiring a new permanent coach. The next step should be further integration of new faces into a system that everyone feels comfortable in, to avoid the team falling into too steep of a holding pattern.

Hitting the back of the net

During the World Cup, the U.S. had trouble with their attacking structure and their ability to move and possess the ball.

The team shook off a few of those cobwebs on Thursday, scoring three goals in quick succession in the final 10 minutes of the first half to put the game out of reach. While they spent some time early on trying to get Ertz a shot at one final goal — “Didn’t you see me trying?” Lindsey Horan joked after the match — the tendency to use set pieces to their advantage felt more like the USWNT of old.

Williams wreaked havoc in the box on corner kicks, scoring two goals off second-chance opportunities.

“We have been talking about in training, my positioning, my job was just to stay in front of the keeper and get her line of sight,” Williams said. “And we have amazing servers and an amazing aerial presence, so my job was just to make her job hard, and there [were] going to be second rebounds.”

But the best goal of the night came from Trinity Rodman, who powerfully redirected a perfect low cross from Alex Morgan into the box in the 34th minute. Morgan has had a mercurial 2023, logging many minutes at the center-forward position for the U.S. in dire need of her skill set. But the 34-year-old striker hasn’t scored for her club or country since May, and she hasn’t hit the back of the net for the U.S. since February.

Morgan’s ability to influence a game, however, goes far beyond scoring, and her run in behind paid major dividends as she made the right pass centrally for Rodman to finish. The goal came in quick transition after decisive midfield buildup, something the U.S. underutilized under Andonovski, and showcased how the same players from the World Cup can succeed when they aren’t second-guessing themselves.

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

Julie Ertz played her final match with the U.S. women’s national team Thursday night, turning the page on a prolific career.

After the 3-0 win against South Africa, the 31-year-old midfielder shared an emotional moment with her teammates and fans, offering some words of wisdom for those who will follow in her footsteps.

“Obviously this is a monumental game for me. I’m beyond grateful to represent this crest for as long as I have,” Ertz said. “To any girl out there who dreams to be here, it’s worth it. Every part of it.

“I’ve enjoyed every part of this journey that I’ve have, and you guys are a big part of that. … I love this sport so much and I’m grateful to be part of the U.S. Soccer family.”

What does Ertz mean to the USWNT? Lynn Williams summed it up at halftime.

“She directs people every second, every moment on the field,” Williams told TNT. “She just shows by her work rate and her dedication to the game. We joke about it in the camp, but she’s always holding an iPad and always studying, always learning.

“Even this morning she was doing it and we were like, ‘Julie, you’re retiring. It doesn’t matter anymore.’ But just her preparation, her dedication, and her willingness to put everything on the line for us, it’s incredible.”

On top of her 123 international appearances, Ertz finishes with 20 goals and two World Cup titles. Of the 106 games that Ertz started in her career, the USWNT lost just 2.8% of them — a grand total of three matches. It’s the lowest losing percentage of any player with 100 or more starts in team history.

And on Thursday, the team sent her out the right way — with a resounding victory.

“Really excited that we scored kind of right before [I was subbed]. It just felt like a really good ending to say bye,” Ertz told TNT after the match. “I’ve always known I loved the sport, and in that moment, the 35 minutes left that I was blessed to have, I just could just feel it. I could feel how much I loved it. I’m so grateful.”

While her teammates did everything they could to get Ertz one last goal, it wasn’t in the cards for the midfielder. But that’s OK.

“At the end of the day, it’s about the wins,” Ertz said. “Of course, I would’ve loved to score. Who wouldn’t? But at the end of the day, it was just so fun to be out there, play so free and play one last time.”

“One last time baby,” Julie Ertz wrote on Instagram, accompanied by a photo of a much younger Julie in a youth soccer photo.

The 31-year-old midfielder appeared in the starting lineup Thursday in her final match for the U.S. women’s national team, and the 3-0 win against South Africa served as a fitting tribute to her career.

Ertz wore the captain’s armband until she was subbed off in the 36th minute, earning a standing ovation from the crowd at Cincinnati’s TQL Stadium as she walked to the sideline.

“I’ve always known I loved the sport, and that moment, I think…the 35 minutes left that I was blessed to have, I just could just feel it,” Ertz said on TNT after the match. “I could feel how much I loved it. So I’m so grateful.”

Ertz announced her retirement from professional soccer in August, following the USWNT’s exit from the 2023 World Cup, but she returned for one last match with the national team.

The USWNT honored Ertz not just with a win but with a highlight reel of her illustrious career as well, which includes 2015 and 2019 World Cup titles, the 2017 and 2019 U.S. Soccer Player of the Year awards and two Olympic tournaments.

“These past six months have been a dream come true,” Ertz wrote in her retirement announcement. “After pregnancy, I never knew if I had a chance to play the beautiful game again, let alone another World Cup. … Representing this country on the national team has been the greatest honor. To play for the USWNT means you chase greatness every day while you wear the crest. I hope that I was able to leave an impact that reflects that.”

Following the 2023 World Cup, Julie Ertz had to deal with her anger about the U.S. women’s national team’s early exit.

The shootout loss to Sweden in the Round of 16 stands as the earliest a USWNT team had ever exited the World Cup, and it came at the hands of a devastating penalty kick that some – including U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher – still can’t believe crossed the goal line.

Following that loss, Ertz noted that it would be her last time wearing the USWNT crest, alluding to her retirement from professional soccer, which she formally announced a few weeks later. While she stepped away from her NWSL club Angel City immediately after her retirement announcement, the 31-year-old midfielder will make one final appearance for the USWNT on Thursday night.

“For someone who obviously is coming to the end, I think it’s just it took me a while to kind of get over just processing it,” she said on the Sirius XM show “Played In.” “Normally I’m pretty emotional. But I think I was just angry – and not at anyone or anything, just the tournament.

“I dream about this and fight for it. And it’s every four years and that’s why it’s so beautiful. This tournament is just so amazing in so many ways. And I had an honor to be at a couple of them.”

In the lead up to the World Cup, Ertz was a question mark. The midfielder suffered an injury at the Tokyo Olympics before giving birth to son Madden last year, which kept her out of the lineup for a significant stretch. But in April, she made a surprise return to the national team, receiving a call-up for a pair of friendlies against Ireland. She then signed with Angel City ahead of the World Cup, which helped build up her stamina.

The past year was “so wild” that she didn’t spend a lot of time looking too far ahead, Ertz said. Traveling back and forth between her home in Arizona and her NWSL club in Los Angeles was hard, and while part of it was “amazing,” the outcome of the World Cup was still disappointing.

“Obviously, I had no idea what it was gonna be like after having a child,” she said. “And my situation has always been so unique that I’ve never really got to live in the market where I got to play and to be with my family.

“Something is always sacrificed, there’s a trade off. I am so grateful for all of it. … And I’ve been so grateful to hit those milestones coming back from Madden. After the Olympics, it was just like, ‘Can I do it?’ … So that process of just getting back was crazy. It was super empowering for me. I never thought that that would happen. I just figured I’d be done after the Olympics just with having a kid.”

Julie Ertz opened up on Wednesday about her decision to retire, saying that it’s not because she can’t still play the game.

Instead, it’s about making the most of the time she has with her family and son Madden, who was born last year. She announced her retirement last month and will play in her final match for the U.S. women’s national team on Thursday, a friendly against South Africa in Cincinnati.

“This sport takes sacrifice,” Ertz said. “And I think time with my family is just irreplaceable, especially with where Madden is and his age.”

Ertz had suited up for Angel City FC in the NWSL before announcing her retirement. Interim head coach Becki Tweed still thinks that the decision to walk away from the sport was “incredibly hard” for Ertz.

“I know that she’s not crazily at peace with it,” Tweed said. “But again, she’s an all-in person and she has soccer, she has family, she has a child. I think we all respect that decision, and we’re really grateful and thankful for her recovery and what she’s done for the sport.”

The 31-year-old midfielder is retiring near the top of her game, but she said Wednesday that she doesn’t regret being able to choose when she gets to step away.

“Your whole career as an athlete, you’re like, ‘I just don’t want to regret anything,’” Ertz said. “And I think you just want to get to a point to be able to choose myself when I could step away.

“I do feel like I can step away and be like, ‘It’s not because momma can’t play — momma can play. She has just adapted [her] priorities.’ I think that just comes with age.”

The announcement that she would get to play one final USWNT game was a surprise, but a welcome one for Ertz.

“I’m so grateful to have this last game to just close the chapter and say bye,” said the two-time World Cup champion. “I feel like if I retired five years ago, if I retired in 10 years, the day that you choose [to leave] the sport that you know your whole life, it’s just a sad day.”