USWNT sends Julie Ertz off in style in first game since disappointing World Cup

It wasn’t the ultimate mic-drop moment Julie Ertz probably envisioned, the one she hoped would come a month ago in Australia following a third consecutive world title. 

But in the first match since a historically poor World Cup, the United States women’s national team still managed to send the retiring longtime defensive stalwart — the versatile Ertz was a key cog in the American teams that won it all in both 2015 and 2019 — off in fine style Thursday in a 3-0 friendly win over South Africa in Cincinnati. 

Veteran forward Lynn Williams scored twice in the first half, with a pretty goal by young attacker Trinity Rodman sandwiched between. 

Here are three thoughts on the match, and on the end of Ertz’s trophy-filled 10-year international career. 

Play of the game

Rodman’s strike was exactly the type of team goal that the U.S. struggled so mightily to score at the 2023 Women’s World Cup, where the team found the net just four times in four games — three of those in the first group-stage match against badly overmatched Vietnam — before being eliminated by Sweden in the round of 16. 

Ertz fittingly began the sequence by feeding Lindsey Horan, who played Alex Morgan into space behind the visitors’ backline with a clever through-pass. Rather than attempt a shot herself, Morgan spotted a striking Rodman to her left and squared the ball across the box for the 21-year-old, who finished with authority past helpless Banyana Banyana keeper Kaylin Swart:

Following a dreadful summer during which the USWNT failed to reach at least the semifinal of a World Cup for the first time, Rodman’s goal was a badly-needed reminder of how ruthless the most decorated squad in women’s soccer history can look when things are clicking. 

Turning point

By reaching the knockout stage at the World Cup, South Africa proved that it need not fear any foe. The last thing the Americans wanted to do in their first match of the 2027 cycle was suffer another upset. 

So for a team that had never before gone three games without scoring, the first U.S. goal was a relief when it finally arrived 32 minutes in. 

The hosts had been threatening, with Ertz twice going close off Horan corner kicks shortly before the breakthrough. Ertz might even have barely gotten the tip of her ponytail on the Horan service that eventually found its way to Williams, who tapped home from close range: 

In a relatively meaningless exhibition game, it was a hugely important, almost cathartic goal for a U.S. team clearly still stung by how poorly things played out at Australia-New Zealand 2023. It’s probably not an accident that Rodman’s tally came just 62 second later. 

Key stat 

Just 31, Ertz could easily play another few years at least. She could certainly be a central figure at next summer’s Olympics in Paris. After almost two years out of the game before and after the birth of her first child, son Madden, in 2022, she was the Americans’ top performer at the World Cup, anchoring a backline that conceded just once from open play all tournament.

[Julie Ertz ahead of final game with USWNT: ‘It’s not because mama can’t play’]

But Ertz — who received a standing ovation when she was replaced by Andi Sullivan about 10 minutes before halftime — will still go down as a consummate winner in a program filled with them. While Ertz’s 123rd and final cap Thursday puts her only 33rd on the all-time U.S. list, Ertz, who also helped her country win a bronze medal at the last Summer Olympics, finishes with the sixth-highest winning percentage of any American player with 100 or more caps. 

Thursday’s victory upped the USWNT’s record when Ertz plays to an astounding 101W-5L-17T. 

What’s next for the USWNT?

Another send off match for one of the program’s all-time greats. Less than three days after U.S. Soccer honored Ertz, her fellow two-time World Cup-winning teammate Megan Rapinoe will get  her own richly deserved fond farewell on Sunday (kickoff at 5:37 p.m. ET) in a rematch with Banyana Banyana at Soldier Field in Chicago. 

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports who has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at FIFA World Cups on five continents. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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