Julie Ertz finishes career with 3-0 USWNT win in farewell match

CINCINNATI, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 21: Julie Ertz #8 of the United States is honored prior to playing South Africa at TQL Stadium on September 21, 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Julie Ertz called it a career Thursday, after 10-plus years with the United States women's national team, two World Cup titles, two CONCACAF titles, an Olympic bronze medal and a firmly established reputation as one of the country's most important players.

Ertz announced her retirement Aug. 31, but the USWNT confirmed earlier this month she would play a final match in a friendly against South Africa. The team took the opportunity to honor the highly versatile midfielder, who played pretty much wherever the team needed her.

The crowd at TQL Stadium in Cincinnati gave Ertz a loud ovation as she was presented a jersey showing her 123 career caps.

Ertz's parents and sister were both on hand for the occasion, though her husband, Arizona Cardinals tight end Zach Ertz, had to miss the game due to the NFL season. He posted his own message through the Cardinals.

Ertz, given the captain's armband for the match, admitted on the pregame TNT broadcast it would be "a dream" to score a goal, but said the bigger priority was getting a win. The USWNT certainly seemed to try granting her that wish, seeking her out multiple times on corner and free kicks. She got a head on a couple chances, but couldn't get past South Africa goalkeeper Kaylin Swart.

The Americans took a 2-0 lead with back-to-back goals in the 32nd and 34th minutes from Lynn Williams and Trinity Rodman, respectively, and that turned out to be the capper for Ertz. She was subbed out for Andi Sullivan in the 36th minute, hugging every teammate in sight to a standing ovation:

The USWNT won the match 3-0.

Ertz was in tears while addressing the crowd afterward:

With Ertz's substitution, the USWNT moved further away from the core that won them the World Cup in 2015 and 2019. With Carli Lloyd already retired, Ali Krieger and Megan Rapinoe having their final matches on the schedule and others such as Alex Morgan, Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O'Hara, Crystal Dunn and Alyssa Naeher all north of 30 years old, the team's changing of the guard is in full swing.

The transition to a new era saw a major bump in Ertz's final tournament, the 2023 Women's World Cup, where the USWNT was shockingly eliminated in the first match of the knockout stage, inspiring many questions about the team's future outlook.

Ertz gave birth to her son Madden in August 2022, then made it back to the field 10 months later to help her team. She showed her versatility once again in Australia and New Zealand when she moved back to central defense due to an injury to Sauerbrunn.

Ertz's game evolved as the USWNT needed it to, but at her best, she helped the USWNT dominate possession and head off any attacks before they reached the back line. Finding a replacement for her will be an unenviable task as the team looks for a new head coach and prepares for the 2024 Olympics in Paris.