Julie Ertz has retired from professional soccer, she announced on Thursday, a few weeks after the United States women’s national team’s elimination from the 2023 World Cup in a penalty shootout in the Round of 16. The match was the final of Ertz’s career, one that included two senior World Cup titles and 122 appearances for the United States.
“As I’ve gotten older and become a mom, it’s clear the sacrifices of time away from my family no longer seem doable with so many factors at play,” Ertz said in a statement. “These girls gave me a gift I could never repay and I got to live out a dream I wish for everyone: falling in love with a sport you have played your whole life and getting to share it with your son.”
Ertz contemplated the “finality” of her career before, she told The Equalizer prior to the 2023 World Cup. Prior to April, she had not played a competitive game since the Tokyo Olympics in August 2021. A year later, she gave birth to her son, Madden. This past winter, she spoke with her husband, Zach — a tight end for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals — about what life after soccer might look like, and whether she was ready for that. They spoke at length as they sat in their homes, two athletes closer to the end of their professional careers than the beginning.
“What does it look like if you are done? Are you ready?” Ertz told The Equalizer in the spring. “It was just a raw reality of that conversation. Being faced with that conversation straight up is one that you want to postpone as long as possible, but the reality of anything — the immortality in sports [is] you just can’t do it forever. I think that’s just a reality that you don’t ever want to talk about, so I think that’s just an insane moment to reflect on everything and what that looked like if I was to be done. I would just say it was a raw, real moment of not necessarily advice, but truthfulness.”
Ertz decided to return, training with a local boys team before signing with the National Women’s Soccer League’s Angel City FC. That move was always done with an eye on the World Cup, which would be Ertz’s third.
In her time away from the U.S., head coach Vlatko Andonovski — who resigned earlier this month after the team’s worst finish at a major tournament in history — struggled to replace Ertz in the holding midfield role. At her best, Ertz was arguably the best player in the world and the most irreplaceable for the United States. Her return was supposed to solve the team’s midfield issues for the World Cup.
Instead, Ertz played center back at the World Cup, a position she starred in at the 2015 World Cup but had not played regularly since 2017. When U.S. captain Becky Sauerbrunn‘s foot injury excluded her from the World Cup roster Andonovski chose to go with Ertz’s experience at center back alongside breakout star Naomi Girma. That partnership was among the few bright spots for the U.S. at the tournament, where she played every minute for the Americans. After the U.S.’ elimination on August 6, an emotional Ertz mentioned multiple times that it was likely her last time wearing the U.S. jersey.
Ertz scored 20 goals and the U.S. won 100 games, losing just five, in her 122 appearances over the past 10 years. She also helped the U.S. win the U-20 World Cup in 2012, the federation’s last youth-level title.
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Chicago was mostly Ertz’s home at the club level. The Chicago Red Stars selected her with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 NWSL Draft. She played for Chicago until late 2021, at which point her rights were traded to Angel City FC, but she took a break and never signed with the team. She became a free agent in late 2022 but eventually signed for Angel City earlier this year, choosing the club for its proximity to her home near Phoenix, Ariz., and for the support and resources the Los Angeles-based side offered her as a new mom. She played only seven total games for the club.
“As a former player that went through my own retirement process, I have an intimate understanding of what Julie is going through,” Angel City general manager Angela Hucles Mangano said. “She has given her life to the sport of soccer, and now she has made the difficult decision to leave the game to focus on her family. We fully support her in this choice and recognize how complex these life decisions can be. She will always be a part of this club, in addition to having made an indelible mark on global soccer. We wish her only happiness in the future.”
Ertz won the 2014 NWSL Rookie of the Year award and helped the Red Stars earn appearances in six straight playoffs and two NWSL Championships, although she was not present for the stretch run of the 2021 season and appearance in the final. That year, Ertz was injured in the opening minutes of Chicago’s season-opener and rushed her return from a knee injury to play in her second Olympics, helping the team win a bronze medal.
On Thursday, Ertz said she was looking forward to the next phase of life with her son and husband.
“Finally, to the game of soccer,” Ertz wrote in her statement released on Thursday. “You have shaped every part of who I am. My relationship with my faith, my character, friendships, travel, college, heck, just my daily routine. It’s a sad thing to reflect and know the game just moves on without you. The game doesn’t owe you anything but it has given me so much. What a truly beautiful game it is. I’m just grateful for the time we had.”
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