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Julie Ertz embracing her positional evolution with USA, Red Stars

How the former defender is adjusting to life in deep midfield - spoiler alert: It’s going well

Ralph Schudel

Julie Ertz enjoyed an eventful international break. The United States defender scored a brace Friday night in Denver. Ertz’s effort - coupled with Alex Morgan’s late goal - was key for the United States in sealing a 3-1 victory in the first game against New Zealand.

With her brace, Ertz became the highest scoring defender in the United States player pool with 11 goals; eight of those goals have come from the central defender position.

As Ertz earns more caps with the United States, she is tasked by Head Coach Jill Ellis with adapting to a new role with the national team. The back line is becoming increasingly more crowded with the introduction of players like Abby Dahlkemper, Casey Short and Taylor Smith.

Ellis decided that Ertz would be incorporated into a defensive midfield role, much like the one that she has become accustomed to playing for the Chicago Red Stars. The 25-year-old has answered the challenge and is thriving.

“She’s been doing incredible. That’s the JJ we all know and love,” said teammate Kelley O’Hara.

“She just embraces the role she is asked to play every single time and just does it phenomenally,” O’Hara said. “I’ve been really proud and excited for her and it’s fun to play with her. I love having her on the field she has the energy, the work ethic, skill and a nose for the goal. Especially in a position that more people associate with a defensive mindset.”

Ertz adds her own unique flair to the midfield position. She is capable of scoring anytime she gets into the attacking third and becomes especially dangerous on set-pieces for the United States.

Tuesday night in Cincinnati was no different. She didn’t shy away from challenges and was heavily involved in the offense. “JJ” was a standout defensively as she snuffed out numerous attacks from New Zealand. United States Head Coach Jill Ellis was quite impressed with Ertz’s transition.

“She’s everywhere. She fills that [defensive midfielder] role incredibly well,” said the United States manager.

“If I were to give her a grade, if there was an A++, I would say A++. I think the more she’s growing here in the role with us, the more she can also facilitate in terms of passing. It’s not just breaking up plays. I think she’s getting the ball off and obviously the other night she scored some goals.”

Ellis continued, “I think it’s a really natural fit for her. I think on one occasion tonight, Casey Short stepped out and Julie slotted right in. That interchange will happen naturally if suddenly a center back vacates. It’s something as a coach that is great to see.”

Ertz returns to the Red Stars this weekend in the midst of a massive push towards the playoffs. She admits that it’s a “good challenge” to step into a new role and looks forward to reviewing the tape and seeing what she can do better.

JJ and the Red Stars head to Houston, Texas in search of clinching a playoff spot on Saturday against the Dash.