Julie Ertz says goodbye to the US national team during a 3-0 win over South Africa

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U.S. midfielder Julie Ertz, center, laughs while warming up with teammates before an international friendly soccer match against South Africa, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Joshua A. Bickel)

CINCINNATI – Two-time Women's World Cup winner Julie Ertz played her final match for the United States, an emotional 3-0 victory over South Africa in an exhibition on Thursday night.

Ertz announced last month that she was retiring after a 10-year career. She started against South Africa, wearing the captain's armband for her 123th appearance for the United States.

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Lynn Williams scored twice as the U.S. did all its scoring in the first half. Ertz subbed out in the 35th minute to a standing ovation from the crowd at TQL Stadium, shorty after Trinity Rodman’s goal that made it 2-0.

Following the game, Ertz took a lap around the field to applaud fans, many of whom held signs reading “Thank You Julie.”

“If you can have a dream and make it a reality, it's a really cool dream to have,” Ertz said.

The teams play again on Sunday at Soldier Field in Chicago. That match will be the last for Megan Rapinoe, who is also retiring.

It was the first match for the United States since exiting this summer's Women's World Cup in the Round of 16. The Americans were eliminated by Sweden in a penalty shootout, their earliest elimination from soccer's top tournament.

The 31-year-old Ertz had hinted at her retirement following the loss to Sweden, tearfully telling reporters it was likely her final match wearing the team crest. She made it official in August.

“Julie has been a mainstay ever since she got on this team. She took her chance in 2014, 2015 and ran with it, and honestly she’s been one of the most important players for this team over the last decade,” Alex Morgan said. “She’s going out on her terms, and I’m just really happy for her.”

Ertz said before Thursday's game that being able to spend time with her son and husband Zach Ertz, a tight end for the Arizona Cardinals, was “irreplaceable.” And she was grateful to walk away on her own terms.

"I do feel I could step away and be like, ‘It’s not because Momma can’t play. Momma can play. She has just adapted priorities,'" she said. "And I think that just comes with age and just I feel like I’ve been so blessed to have the career that I’ve had.”

It was uncertain whether Ertz would return to soccer before she was named to the World Cup team. The two-time U.S. Player of the Year nursed a knee injury before helping the U.S. win bronze at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, then took time off for the birth of her son last year.

But she appeared in a pair of exhibitions against Ireland in April and signed with Angel City of the National Women's Soccer League, working her way back into shape.

Known for her versatility, Ertz was a center back for the 2015 World Cup champion U.S. team and a defensive midfielder when the Americans defended their title in 2019.

She finishes her national team career with 20 goals. She started all 17 of her World Cup matches.

Ertz scored six goals in 95 games with the NWSL’s Chicago Red Stars from 2014-2021. She played in three games for Angel City this season with one goal.


AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

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