June 16, 2024

Julie Ertz wore the captain’s armband as she led the United States onto the field ahead of an easy 3-0 friendly win over South Africa in her final match for the national team.

Before the game on Thursday night at Cincinnati’s TQL Stadium, Ertz was honored by U.S. Soccer and presented with a commemorative jersey with the No. 123 on it, representing the number of caps the veteran midfielder earned in a U.S. jersey.

The Americans dominated the opening half-hour and finally broke through when Lynn Williams headed the ball over the line following a corner kick before Trinity Rodman smashed home another 60 seconds later on a lightning-fast counter by the U.S.

Minutes later, Ertz’s career was over as she handed the armband to Lindsay Horan, hugged her teammates and left the field in tears for substitute Andi Sullivan.

“Really excited that we scored kind of right before [I was subbed]. It just felt like a really good ending to say bye,” Ertz said on the TNT post-game show.

“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. I could feel how much I loved it. So I’m so grateful.”

Williams was in the right place at the right time again for her second goal of the half for another easy close-range finish, and the U.S. took a 3-0 lead into half-time.

The second half played out at a slower pace than the first and saw the U.S. debut of hometown player Mary Vignola, who came on for Crystal Dunn at the break. Angel City teenager Alyssa Thompson, who played with Ertz at the World Cup last summer, came on for Rodman in the 77th minute, but the U.S. did not add to the final scoreline.

Julie Ertz waves to the crowd in Cincinnati as she leaves the field after her final appearance for the USWNT.
Julie Ertz waves to the crowd in Cincinnati as she leaves the field after her final appearance for the USWNT.

Following the game, Ertz took a lap around the field to applaud fans, many of whom held signs reading, “Thank You Julie.”

“If you can have a dream and make it a reality, it’s a really cool dream to have,” Ertz said.

The U.S., coached by interim manager Twila Kilgore, play South Africa again on Sunday and bid farewell to another retiring team legend in Megan Rapinoe.

It was the first match for the United States since exiting this summer’s Women’s World Cup in the Round of 16. The Americans were eliminated by Sweden in a penalty shootout, their earliest elimination from soccer’s top tournament.

The 31-year-old Ertz had hinted at her retirement following the loss to Sweden, tearfully telling reporters it was likely her final match wearing the team crest. She made it official in August.

“Julie has been a mainstay ever since she got on this team. She took her chance in 2014, 2015 and ran with it, and honestly she’s been one of the most important players for this team over the last decade,” Alex Morgan said. “She’s going out on her terms, and I’m just really happy for her.”

Ertz said before Thursday’s game that being able to spend time with her son and husband Zach Ertz, a tight end for the Arizona Cardinals, was “irreplaceable.” And she was grateful to walk away on her own terms.

“I do feel I could step away and be like, ‘It’s not because Momma can’t play. Momma can play. She has just adapted priorities,'” she said. “And I think that just comes with age and just I feel like I’ve been so blessed to have the career that I’ve had.”

Known for her versatility, Ertz was a center back for the 2015 World Cup champion U.S. team and a defensive midfielder when the Americans defended their title in 2019.

She finishes her national team career with 20 goals. She started all 17 of her World Cup matches.

Ertz scored six goals in 95 games with the NWSL’s Chicago Red Stars from 2014-2021. She played in three games for Angel City FC this season with one goal.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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