It wasn’t the ultimate microphone-dropping moment imagined by Julie Ertz, the one she hoped would happen a month ago in Australia after a third consecutive world title.
But in the first game since a historically mediocre World Cup, the U.S. women’s national team still managed to send the longtime defensive stalwart back to retirement — the versatile Ertz was a key cog on U.S. teams that won everything in 2015 and 2019 –. brilliantly on Thursday in a 3-0 friendly victory against South Africa in Cincinnati.
Veteran striker Lynn Williams scored twice in the first half, with a nice goal from young striker Trinity Rodman in between.
Here are three thoughts on the match and the end of Ertz’s 10-year, trophy-filled international career.
Game of the game
Rodman’s goal was exactly the type of team goal the United States has struggled to score at the 2023 Women’s World Cup, where the team has only found the net four times in four matches, three of which came in the first match of the group stage against a largely overmatched opponent. Vietnam — before being eliminated by Sweden in the round of 16.
Ertz deservedly started the sequence by feeding Lindsey Horan, who moved Alex Morgan into space behind the visitors’ back line with a smart through ball. Rather than attempt a shot herself, Morgan spotted a striking Rodman to her left and placed the ball across the box for the 21-year-old, who finished with authority in front helplessly. Banyana Banyana goalkeeper Kaylin Swart:
After a terrible summer in which the USWNT failed to reach at least the semifinals of a World Cup for the first time, Rodman’s goal was a much-needed reminder of how ruthless the team can be. he most decorated team in the history of women’s football when things click.
By reaching the round of 16 of the World Cup, South Africa proved that they have no enemy to fear. The last thing the Americans wanted to do in their first game of the 2027 cycle was suffer another upset.
So for a team that had never gone three matches without scoring, the first American goal came as a relief when it finally arrived 32 minutes later.
The hosts appeared threatening, with Ertz twice going close to Horan’s corners shortly before the breakthrough. Ertz may have barely even gotten the end of his ponytail on the Horan serve that eventually found its way to Williams, who tapped home from close range:
In a relatively meaningless exhibition match, this was an extremely important, almost cathartic goal for a U.S. team clearly still stung by the way things played out at Australia-New Zealand 2023 It’s probably no coincidence that Rodman’s goal came just 62 seconds later.
At just 31 years old, Ertz could easily play at least a few more years. She could certainly be a central figure at the Paris Olympics next summer. After almost two years away before and after the birth of her first child, son Madden, in 2022, she was the Americans’ best player at the World Cup, anchoring a back line that conceded just one only time in open play during the entire tournament.
(Julie Ertz before the last match with the USWNT: “It’s not because mom can’t play”)
But Ertz — who received a standing ovation when she was replaced by Andi Sullivan about 10 minutes before halftime — will always remain a consummate winner in a program full of them. While Ertz’s 123rd and final cap on Thursday places her just 33rd on the United States’ all-time 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 increased the USWNT record as Ertz plays with an incredible 101W-5L-17T.
What’s next for the USWNT?
Another farewell game for one of the program’s all-time greats. Less than three days after US Soccer honored Ertz, two-time World Cup winning teammate Megan Rapinoe will receive her well-deserved farewell Sunday (5:37 p.m. ET kickoff) in a rematch with Banyana Banyana at Soldier Field in Chicago.
Doug McIntyre is a football 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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