Some leave the sport they love quietly. Others fade due to injury or simply age out of the game. Julie Ertz, the now former USWNT midfielder/defender did neither. Ertz departed the sport that she began playing professionally on her own terms, a rare occurrence in today’s day and age.
If you aren’t a USWNT fan, it is difficult for me to put into words the impact of the former Santa Clara Bronco. Either way, I will try my best.
Even in her final practice, there were no shortcuts. That was the way “JJ” went through her soccer life. The finishing line was so close, but that did not prevent her from providing that consistent competitive fire in each and every drill.
As a U.S. soccer fan, it was hard to wrap my head around the fact that a legend I grew up watching walked off the pitch for the final time on September 21 in Cincinnati. No more fierce tackles. Gone are the leaping headers. Say farewell to the blue pre-wrap. Days later, that reality has yet to sink in.
The entire city of Cincinnati, TNT, and the USWNT faithful gave Ertz a night she would never forget. The scoreline against South Africa that Thursday night was insignificant, to say the least. Signs and posters littered TQL Stadium. In the 35’ of the match, No. 8 exited to a standing ovation from an entire nation. It was a well-deserved thank you, something not many American soccer legends received in the past. It was true, genuine emotion. From her, and everyone involved. You could tell, this was what she wanted, but it did not make the transition any easier.
In front of a packed house, Ertz gave a post-game speech, defined by gratitude and selflessness.
“I am beyond grateful to have represented this crest for as long as I have…To every young girl out there who dreams to be here, it’s worth it, every part of it. I love this sport, as we all do, and I am grateful to be part of this U.S. Soccer family.”
At just 31 years old, it goes without saying that the Arizona native could lace up her boots for another three to five years. Angel City FC would love to have her as the southern California club side competes for a postseason berth down the stretch in September and October. That did not matter to her. The footballer’s priorities were straight and after 123 appearances in the red, white, and blue, arguably the country’s most dominant midfield force of all time moved into the next chapter of her life.
Yes, there will be replacements, including Sam Coffey and even Andi Sullivan, but you can’t replace that mentality. What is “that mentality” you may ask? Imagine getting an “A” on a test in your hardest class, but instead of giving yourself a pat on the back, you start studying for the next exam that same night. On a much larger scale, that sums it up. Day in and day out on the club and international level, Ertz made strides to get better. Nobody set the standard like the former No. 19.
The midfielder was known for last-ditch tackles, goal line clearances, and her physicality. That fed into the individuals around her. The hope is, as it always is when a talented athlete retires, that the mentality she embodied was learned and adopted by the players of the future.
Her legacy deserves it. She won’t go down as the fastest, or most elite goal-scorer on planet Earth. Ertz was simply a player who owned the intangibles. Sure, there were times she found the back of the net with her head off a set piece, but there was nothing like her effort and attitude. As an attacker, the sheer presence of the former Chicago Red Star was frightening.
Due to injury, and her pregnancy, the 2018 CONCACAF W-Championship Golden Ball recipient was out of the game for nearly 18 months. That didn’t even keep her down as she fought back to earn a place on the United States’ 2023 World Cup roster. Despite the outcome, the starting center-back was one of the key reasons why the team reached the final 16 in the first place.
The two-time U.S. Female Soccer Player of the Year and World Cup champion was the disruptor. She did those things that few noticed even after taking a hard look at the stat sheet. No matter what was asked of her, Ertz did it. In the defensive third, and in the middle of the pitch.
On and off the field, the joy she exhibited was contagious. Few fans who stayed until the end of the game left without receiving some sort of love from Ertz. Whether that be in the form of a high-five, a picture, or an autograph. That was the kind of person she was. A leader, who set an example for every young girl and boy dreaming of becoming a professional athlete someday. Even the ones she competed against respected her.
Madden’s mother is and always will be one of a kind.