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Women's World Cup 2019: Julie Ertz has become the USWNT's most indispensable player

2020/11/26 04:54

As the holding midfielder for the United States, the 27-year-old's role will be vital in 2019 Women's World Cup play.

Julie Ertz is not the biggest star on the United States Women's National Soccer team. Alex Morgan has her beaten by about 3.25 million Twitter followers. Ertz is not the one who owns the best resume. Carli Lloyd is only three years removed from being named FIFA Best Women's Player. Ertz is not the most experienced, doesn't figure to score the most goals and isn't even playing the same position or going by the same last name as when soccer fans were introduced to her four years ago at the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup.

Julie Ertz is the name Americans will need to know in 2019, however, as the United States endeavors to repeat as World Cup champion. There is no more important player in the USWNT lineup. She is the last line of defense in advance of the U.S. defense, playing what is known in soccer lexicon alternately as a holding midfielder or a "No. 6."

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When the U.S. won in 2015, Ertz — then known as Julie Johnston, her maiden name, before she married Eagles tight end Zach Ertz — was a revelation in central defense and was named to the 23-player all-star team chosen by the FIFA technical committee. As coach Jill Ellis developed a more aggressive, attack-based 4-3-3 formation, though, she saw Ertz's move to central midfield as essential to making it work.

Because Ellis chose not to bring along NWSL star McCall Zebroni, there also is not a true "destroyer" among the reserves available to fill in for Ertz.

"When you look at the '6' position, it is such a critical position. Who can be that player that can cover ground and break up plays, who can win the ball in aerial battles and who also has the ability to connect with a pass? Well, we've seen that in JJ,” Ellis told Sporting News. "Seeing her play there frequently with her club is certainly beneficial. We looked at different players in that spot, but ultimately it's just a really good fit for her."

Ertz, 27, is a native of Mesa, Ariz., who led Santa Clara to the NCAA Tournament in her senior year, 2013. Coming off her World Cup success at age 23, the second-youngest player on the 2015 roster, Ertz looked as though she would be a fixture in the U.S. back line for a decade.

In 2017, however, she began playing more frequently as an attacking midfielder with her team, the Chicago Red Stars, in the National Women’s Soccer League. That is also when Ellis began using her more frequently as a No. 6.

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They are not identical positions, and it's apparent there are times when Ertz's desire and ability to join the formidable U.S. attack lead her higher up the field, closer to the goal. She has scored nine international goals since 2017.

"I really would like to have her sit a little bit more and kind of be that shield in front of the back four and kind of connect with them on the defensive side of the game and, as the game progresses, move into the attack a little more," Fox Sports analyst Christie Rampone, a veteran of five World Cups, told SN. "But I think we really need her to break up the opposing attack and be dynamic like she is. That’s what she’s brilliant at."

In her new position, Ertz is joined by two marvelously talented, offensive-oriented players, of which Ellis can choose among three: Lindsey Horan, Samantha Mewis or Rose Lavelle. All three are World Cup rookies, though. The lineup includes plenty of World Cup champions, but only Ertz holds that distinction among the midfielders who are so important to any team’s success.

"I would hope I could give them as many helpful tips that I feel like I've learned through my experience," Ertz told SN. "I think right now, it’s really giving them confidence in what they have, because what they bring this team is so special. I think on my end it’s really just giving them that extra confidence push because they’re a huge reason why we play the way we play.

"I think what I’ve learned is you can’t look past any game. Adversity hits you all the time in those tournaments: throughout games, in moments through each game. Regardless of what position I play, overall, from the experience I’ve got, it’s really to stay in the moment because sometimes these games are won by such small margins. You really need to stay focused and in the moment of each game, and not look past any round."

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The position Ertz plays now can be more glamorous than playing central defense, where one small mistake that leads to an opposing goal can define an entire performance. She is allowed more freedom to join the attack. She also must be fit enough to move from sideline to sideline, box to box. The game is physically demanding for everyone, but for a midfielder most of all.

Asked if she trains differently now than when she was primarily a defender, Ertz didn’t really want to think about the demands.

"Yeah," she said. "I run a lot ... more."

Source : https://www.sportingnews.com/us/soccer/news/womens-world-cup-2019-julie-ertz-uswnt/6zrhv2liada1tyen5hjg9yp7

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