It was a cold and crisp October evening in Bridgeview, Illinois.
There was a faint drizzle in the air as fans gathered at Toyota Park for the second match of 2014 Women’s CONCACAF Qualifying. The United States Women’s National Team were preparing for their second match of the tournament against Guatemala.
Head Coach Jill Ellis prepared a lineup that featured several of the core USWNT team favorites like Hope Solo, Carli Lloyd, Tobin Heath, Sydney Leroux, and Megan Rapinoe, but featured on the bench was a quiet rookie.
She had blond hair and blue eyes but didn’t say much. She casually stood behind the net to retrieve the soccer balls of her teammates that couldn’t quite find the net.
That rookie’s name was Julie Ertz.
Ertz (née Johnston) was a late addition to the roster after an injury to Crystal Dunn left the USWNT in scrambling to fill the vacancy prior to qualifying. Ertz was a stud as a member of the youth international team and this was one of her first chances to make the senior squad.
Fans were clamoring to see the young prospect the Red Stars had drafted from UC Santa Clara. Chants of “We want Johnston” rang throughout Toyota Park but sadly they went unanswered.
After the match, Ertz made her way over to the American Outlaws and thanked them for their support. She wouldn’t see any action the rest of the tournament as the United States qualified for the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
Ertz would go on to earn two of her three caps in 2014 in the Tournament of Brazil but the defender wouldn’t go away quietly.
Ertz was called into the following January camp in Carson, California. Her international campaign began as she was selected to go overseas for the Algarve Cup in Portugal. An injury to fellow defender Whitney Engen opened the door for Ertz and she never let go of the opportunity. She made the roster for her first Women’s World Cup and this is where we saw the defender flourish.
One of the key traits of Julie Ertz is her mental toughness. It was showcased during the semifinal match against Germany in Montreal. Ertz was playing a near perfect game for a defender, until a questionable decision arose in the 59th minute. She earned a yellow card and presented Germany with a penalty kick opportunity. It was the defender’s “worst nightmare.”
The defender was visibly an emotional wreck as seven different players came to Ertz’ aid in an effort to console her, but the efforts of captain Carli Lloyd and vice-captain Becky Sauerbrunn really stuck with the young defender.
“I remember telling her, ‘No time for tears. We’ve got a game to play,’” Carli Lloyd said.
Ertz admits to wanting to play her best alongside Sauerbrunn. “She keeps me sane. She’s a warrior,” said Ertz of her teammate. “I just always want to play well for her and the back line and seeing her look at me and smile, that really made me take a deep breath and know we’re still in this game.”
One can look back and reference this moment as when things finally clicked for the defender. Fast forward to 2017, she has a new name as she married longtime boyfriend and Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, a new mindset and a drastically new Red Stars team around her.
During Julie Ertz’s tenure in Chicago she has seen the acquisitions of dynamic players like Christen Press, Sofia Huerta, Morgan Brian, and Yugi Nagasato. Like the Red Star franchise, Ertz has grown on and off the field.
She has been a catalyst for the Red Stars, regardless of which role she plays for Head Coach Rory Dames. Ertz embodies grit and determination and is a player that the rest of the team can rally around.
Shall we take a trip back to late July when the United States were trailing Brazil?
Ertz has made a career out of defying expectations and going above and beyond the call of duty. Sunday’s victory against the North Carolina Courage shouldn’t surprise you. While the victory put the rest of the NWSL on notice, Ertz and the rest of this Red Stars look poised and ready to make a solid push towards the playoffs.