(Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)

Injuries and extended absences have taken a toll on the U.S. women’s national team as the reigning world champions prepare for the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

As head coach Vlatko Andonovski continues to evaluate players before naming a final roster next summer, we take a look at recent USWNT mainstays on the outside looking in and where they stand in the run-up to the biggest tournament in women’s soccer. Next up: Julie Ertz.

Position: Midfielder
Total caps: 116
Most recent USWNT appearance: Aug. 5, 2021 vs. Australia (Tokyo Olympics)

What is her track record with the USWNT?

Ertz earned her first USWNT call-up in January 2013, and she made her first appearance the next month in a friendly against Scotland.

By the 2015 World Cup, she had cemented her spot in the lineup as a defender. She was one of five U.S. players to play every minute of all seven matches during the run to the World Cup title.

In 2017, former USWNT coach Jill Ellis shifted Ertz to the midfield, and she thrived there as well, bringing a physical presence up the center of the field. She featured heavily again on the team’s run to a second World Cup championship in 2019.

Ertz played in the Olympics in summer 2021 even after spraining her MCL in the Chicago Red Stars’ NWSL regular-season opener in May.

What is keeping her off the roster?

The 30-year-old gave birth to a baby boy in early August.

She and her husband, Arizona Cardinals tight end Zach Ertz, announced the pregnancy in April and welcomed Madden Matthew Ertz to the world on Aug. 11.

Her most recent game for the USWNT came in the bronze-medal match at the Tokyo Games in August 2021, and she hasn’t played in the NWSL since her knee injury to start the 2021 season. The Red Stars traded her to Angel City FC in the offseason, she did not play in 2022 due to her pregnancy.

Still, while she hasn’t been seen in competition in more than a year, she enters the NWSL offseason as a top free agent.

When will she be back?

Ertz has not provided a timetable for her return to the pitch. While USWNT and Portland Thorns star Crystal Dunn returned just three months and 20 days after giving birth in May, Thorns coach Rhian Wilkinson cautioned players to recover at their own pace.

“I don’t also want other mothers in the league to now think they’ve got to do what Crystal Dunn did,” Wilkinson said ahead of the NWSL semifinals. “It is incredible what she did. But it was done very carefully with a lot of very, very skilled people supporting her return to play.”

Andonovski offered a similar perspective when speaking of Ertz in late October.

“She’s enjoying motherhood and she’s happy and doing a great job at it,” he said. “We want to give Julie time to get back slowly. We won’t even discuss it. This is time for Julie to enjoy time with her family, and when the time comes, if she is anywhere near her best, this team will welcome her back.”

What other players are missing from the USWNT roster?