Chicago Red Stars, 2014–
There is little question Julie Ertz is among the best players in the world. Her energy and defensive abilities have perhaps even made her unrivalled as a defensive midfielder, and one who remains similarly capable of excelling in central defence.
Approaching her peak at the age of 27 when the USA won the Women's World Cup in July 2019, she has since then continued to improve, and to the extent that there are observers who consider her even more influential than the celebrated Megan Rapinoe. "She's always a consummate professional regardless of the environment," said their former coach Jill Ellis. "Whether it's in training, national team games or in the NWSL, she always brings a level of professionalism, effort and talent."
Ertz is a versatile player but she most commonly plays as a central midfielder or in central defence, as is determined by her team's system or style of play. Characterised by her long passing ability, powerful running and high-quality dribbling, Ertz is an influential playmaker for both Chicago Red Stars and the USA.
When her teams are building possession she is comfortable receiving the ball with her back to goal or on the half-turn, and always looks to receive on her back foot to give herself the best chance of turning to quickly face forwards. She regularly scans the areas around her, and therefore often selects the most effective pass quickly and with few touches. She also demands the ball from defence, creating opportunities to play forwards, and seeks to exploit space in behind opponents (below).
Her confidence with the ball at her feet contributes to her regularly carrying it forwards, and her advancing out of defensive areas and into space. Ertz’s power and technical ability allow her to move at pace (below), triggering movements from more advanced teammates and stretching opposing defences and creating spaces to play passes into. When she is progressing possession in that way, for both club and country she is often complemented by wide forwards making direct runs on the outside of those same defences.
Ertz offers variety when playing the ball. From deeper territory she targets areas beyond opposing defences with passes her teammates can run on to; from more advanced areas she demonstrates greater accuracy, when she plays into spaces between defenders. If she has minimal space around her, she instead favours using the outside of her foot and the ball's momentum to flick it away from opponents, in perhaps the same way she can generate power with limited back lift when she has little time.
That attacking variety extends to the threat she poses at set-pieces. At corners she favours making runs to the near post, after first delaying, before quickly accelerating and use her power to get in front of the relevant defender (below) and using the pace of the delivery to direct her header towards goal.
There are regardless times when she travels too far with the ball, and to the extent that she limits her passing options. She can also struggle with inaccurate passes or loose balls in midfield, which she can find challenging to bring under control.
When she is required to defend, Ertz instinctively knows what positions to adopt to screen attacks. If she is starting in a central area, she shows admirable anticipation to regularly make interceptions before transitioning into attack. She is a tenacious defender who works hard to make regains and denies opponents time and space; if she can improve to the point that her physicality means her conceding fewer free-kicks, she can become even more effective.
It is her stature and mobility that means she is so often successful when more urgently defending, and she complements that with authority when she steps across opponents to take the ball. Should possession be conceded in the attacking half, she will then press with enthusiasm and often succeed in recovering it or forcing opponents to play backwards, ensuring that either her team can continue to advance, or that pressure is eased from the defenders behind her.
Role at Chicago Red Stars
Unlike for the USA, where she is selected as a central midfielder, Ertz most commonly features as Chicago Red Stars' right-sided central defender. From the latter position she demonstrates her qualities by playing longer-range passes; when Stars seek to change the point of their attack, she advances into the attacking half and uses that same passing range (above) to play in behind opposing defences before they can adjust.
As her doing so shows, her deep starting position doesn't prevent her from regularly becoming one of their playmakers by so comfortably driving out from defence and into midfield. It is her willingness to that has contributed to her developing so potent an understanding (below) with their forward Sam Kerr, who monitors Ertz's positioning to judge when to run into the channels and attempt to unsettle and stretch the opposing defence.
The speed with which Ertz can link defence to attack is significant in that. Should she be selected in midfield she will continue to withdraw into suitable, usually deeper, positions to receive the ball from their defensive line, draw pressure, and create space further forwards. By then quickly playing passes from those positions, she can then release her attacking teammates (below).
On the rarer occasions she advances far enough to shoot at goal, she most regularly does so towards the edge of the penalty area, from where she provides a cut-back option from crosses. The majority of the goals she scores regardless come in the air – she is at her most effective in front of goal when she is in a position to attack high balls from close range.
As suits her qualities, when Stars are without the ball, Ertz seeks to advance and pressure her direct opponent as soon as they receive the ball, and therefore to deny them time and space to turn and play the ball forwards. Her body shape encourages opponents to move wide, and often even involves her attempting to move them off-balance.
For both club and country she represents an experienced figure. One who consistently works to provide defensive security while retaining the ability and desire to create.
Author: Tony Hodson