Julie Ertz’s USWNT comeback, positions and most suitable next destinations – scout report
Julie Ertz can be considered as one of the USWNT’s most renowned players as she joined the senior national team since 2013 and won two World Cups with the USWNT in 2015 and 2019 as she was also named in the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015 All-Star Team.
Ertz’s career started at Santa Clara Broncos in the NCAA before moving to NWSL’s Chicago Red Stars in 2014 and playing with the team until 2021. Afterwards, she suffered from injuries and was unable to play football following her pregnancy therefore it was not possible for her to participate with Angel City last season despite having joined them in the 2021 offseason. At the moment, Ertz has just come back from her long absence and she got a chance to participate in the two friendly games against the Republic of Ireland ahead of the 2023 World Cup roster decision.
Whether she will be called up to the World Cup or not, the decision now lies in the hands of the coaching staff who have surely evaluated Ertz’s physical readiness and especially her current form. It is true that Ertz has been out for too long and is therefore lacking match sharpness and isn’t capable of playing a full 90 minutes yet. However, a player with stellar international experience like her would surely be useful to the team even if she will not be a starting player during the World Cup. In fact, her personality and her sense of captaincy would help the team a lot on a psychological level.
And when it comes to what she can add on the pitch, this will be thoroughly analysed in this tactical analysis scout report, in addition to shedding some light on how she can fit in the USWNT’s tactics and what would be her best position with the team. Plus, the analysis will include a section exploring Ertz’s most suitable next destinations in order to have a clearer idea of Ertz’s choices and predict her next move.
During the start of her career, Ertz used to play as a centre-back at Chicago Red Stars and in 2017, her head coaches at Chicago Red Stars and with the USWNT started using Ertz as a defensive midfielder and found this as an excellent alternative to reinforce the midfield, guarantee more security to the back-four and make Ertz start the build-up from the back by liberating the other midfielders from high pressing. As this change of role was beneficial for Ertz’s both teams, she started being exploited as a defensive midfielder more often and we started to see her less as a centre-back. Nevertheless, what characterises Ertz is that she was and is able to interpret both roles in a very efficient way.
The following graphic englobes Ertz’s defensive territory during the last few years and during various tournaments played with Chicago Red Stars and with the USWNT. In fact, we wanted to include as many competitions as possible in order to assess Ertz’s defensive performances both as a defensive midfielder and as a centre-back at the same time. What is striking in this graphic is that the number of Ertz’s clean interceptions is way higher than the number of her fouls, and this tells us that her interception attempts are often successful.
Also, Ertz’s scope of defensive interventions is a large one and it goes from the penalty box until the edge of the final third, and this is mainly because Ertz does not hold a single role on the pitch but rather two and sometimes three. In addition to playing as a centre-back and as a defensive midfielder, she was also used as a central right/left midfielder on some occasions as well, which made her defensive map even larger.
More importantly, Ertz is a very attentive player who never commits dangerous mistakes in key areas and this can be confirmed when looking at the areas of fouls committed by Ertz. She never commits fouls inside the box despite making numerous interceptions inside the box and being obliged to defend on the edge and sometimes inside the box.
Ertz’s most distinguishable attributes are her physical strength, her ability to win defensive and aerial duels, her defensive decision-making, her vision and her passing accuracy.
She often makes clean tackles or interceptions while being aggressive enough to beat her opponent and win the ball or clear it away. Inside the box, she usually covers for her teammates without hesitation and especially without complicating things. Having the personality and the physical strength needed to make such interventions helps Ertz and her team a lot in such situations. This example shows how Ertz dropped towards the right in order to intercept the ball from the opponent who was about to shoot after getting rid of her direct marker. Ertz was able to read the situation quickly in order to anticipate the opponent’s next move and intercept the ball aggressively before she tries to shoot on goal.
This aggressivity however is not a reckless one but rather a very calculated aggressivity that helps Ertz win in such situations without being obliged to commit fouls and in this case penalties. Moreover, the experience helped Ertz become more mature in such situations and rely on her understanding of the game rather than just passive aggressiveness.
Tackling is also one of Ertz’s most used tools on the pitch as she masters them and knows exactly when and how to use them without committing dangerous fouls. When out of possession, Ertz is always important in this regard since she finds a way to intercept the ball whenever she notices that there is a slight possibility to win the ball.
The next picture shows how Ertz was able to win the ball back successfully by using a sliding tackle to take the ball away from former Real Madrid and current Serie A and Milan’s Kosovare Asllani without committing a foul nor harming the player. Her tip in this regard is to anticipate her opponents’ movements with tackles especially when they are in a situation that doesn’t allow them to look at or notice Ertz’s action.
In addition to her excellent abilities in defensive duels and her aggressiveness on the ball, Ertz’s defensive reflexes can be considered outstanding prior to her absence and even following her recent comeback. In other words, Ertz doesn’t ever hesitate when being put in complicated situations and when needing to act quickly yet without committing mistakes. We saw her saving her team from conceding goals on several occasions by clearing the ball away from the goal line.
Also, she always have quick reflexes when trying to counter potential shots and this is not something to be taken for granted because not all defenders are quick enough in their shot-countering attempts. During the USWNT’s match against the Republic of Ireland, Ertz showed once again that she still has those quick defensive reflexes when she successfully deviated her opponent’s shot with a sliding tackle despite being very close to her and not having the necessary time to react to the shooting attempt.
Should Ertz play as a DMF or return to playing as a CB for the World Cup?
Ertz started her career as a centre-back and played in this role for numerous years. Yet, she was transformed into a defensive midfielder during the last six years and proved that she can be very efficient when occupying that role too. Whether to play as a CB or as a DMF with the USWNT in the World Cup will depend mainly on Vlatko Andonovski’s thoughts on the matter and on players’ availability for both roles.
Currently, Andonovski tried Ertz as a defensive midfielder twice and it looks like he is not planning to rely on her as a defender in his 4-2-3-1 and his 4-3-3. When using the 4-2-3-1 formation, Ertz would play alongside one of Lindsey Horan or Andi Sullivan as central midfielders unlike in the 4-3-3 where Ertz would find more space for playing since this formation allows her to occupy the defensive midfielder role. Having competition mainly from Horan, Sullivan, Rose Lavelle, Ashley Sanchez and Kristy Mewis would lessen Ertz’s playing time in the upcoming period yet she surely deserves to play in order to provide more defensive stability to the team even if she would not play for 90 minutes.
Moreover, the most effective midfield combination for the USWNT would be Ertz/Sullivan as a defensive midfielder and both Horan/Lavelle and Sanchez/Mewis as central midfielders. This would not only help the team be more solid defensively but would also liberate both central midfielders and allow them to contribute to the attacks more often, while Ertz/Sullivan would have to deal with pressing and distributing the ball either to her two midfield teammates or towards the wingers. In this same vein, Sullivan can also interpret the defensive midfielder role in an efficient way and therefore both Sullivan and Ertz would share the playing time during games.
In case of emergencies, Ertz can be used as a centre-back to replace Becky Sauerbrunn or Naomi Girma knowing that Ertz has the experience needed to help secure the team’s defensive line without committing errors.
Ertz’s most suitable role during this period would be the defensive midfielder role in a 4-3-3 formation. Yet, Andonovski can alternate by playing her as a defensive midfielder at times and as a centre-back at other times depending on the opponent and his players’ form. For instance, when playing against a team with very quick attacking players, it would be better to not risk playing Ertz as a defensive midfielder because she is not at her 100% yet in terms of speed.
But, it would be very useful to employ her as a CB in order to profit from her experience, reflexes and ability in winning defensive duels since the CB role requires less crucial long runs than the DMF role.
Most suitable next destinations
Being actually a free agent, Ertz is surely evaluating her options and thinking about her next move as she already confirmed that she is in talks with a few clubs. This will more likely be a move to an NWSL club and it will more likely be finalised very soon.
Gotham FC would be a very suitable destination for Ertz mainly because their tactics fit Ertz’s profile very well since they mainly rely on the 4-1-4-1 formation with Alexandra Long as a defensive midfielder. Ertz would surely find some good playing time at Gotham and would most likely help Gotham FC have more defensive stability and more defensive organisation.
San Diego Wave
Another possible destination for Ertz would be to join San Diego Wave. It is true that this team does not rely on the 4-3-3 formation but rather on a 4-4-2 formation which becomes 4-2-2-2 at times, yet this looks like a suitable destination for Ertz mainly because she will have the possibility to play either as a central midfielder or as a defender, and also because she would have good chemistry with some of her old teammates and USWNT teammates such as Naomi Girma, Abby Dahlkemper and Alex Morgan.
It is true that the team doesn’t lack defensive options, however, Ertz’s quality defending would be sufficient to convince Casey Stoney to play her in defence or in midfield especially when one of Danielle Colaprico and Emily van Egmond are not at their best form or when they need some rest. Even when both are fit, we believe that Ertz has got what it takes to challenge both players for a starting spot, even if she would most probably not be able to always play the full 90 minutes.
Julie Ertz has certainly got a lot more to offer before retiring and the USWNT would rather exploit this veteran comeback and make use of it during the upcoming tournaments, starting from the World Cup.
Ertz’s long absence helped her rejuvenate herself at least from a psychological perspective and this period of reflection would have surely helped her understand the game better and come back with a little bit different and more positive mentality.
The first signs of her comeback were surely positive enough against the Republic of Ireland, and with more match sharpness, Ertz would hopefully come back to her excellent and consistent performances, especially if she settles very well at her next team.