Last Friday, Julie Ertz was at Shields Middle School in Chicago, presenting a check for $20,000 so the 7th and 8th graders there could have new uniforms and equipment after playing in basketball shirts and street shoes. It was part of Kellogg’s “Mission Tiger,” which is supporting middle school sports programs, hence Tony the Tiger joining Julie and the kids, who were appropriately excited to have a World Cup star in their midst.
It wasn’t just the girls, Ertz said in a phone call after the event, but the boys as well, which was very, very cool. “The boys were naming all of my teammates. They were like oh, is Megan here, is Alex here, and I loved it,” Ertz said. They were excited about the possibility of a Red Stars championship too, especially with the prospect of a home semifinal (since clinched) on the horizon. It was nice, Ertz pointed out, for the kids to feel connected to Chicago and to be excited about playing soccer in their city.
It’s another sign of the growing cultural impact of the USWNT; they’re becoming regular celebrities, unqualified by gender. Ertz added to her legacy when she was named to the FIFPro World XI on September 23rd, joining Amandine Henry and Rose Lavelle among the selected midfielders.
It was a whirlwind for Ertz, who said she got email notification of the honor about a week-and-a-half before the ceremony, but couldn’t fly until the day of due to her game schedule with the Red Stars. She helped the Red Stars to a 3-1 win over the Washington Spirit on Saturday, then was in Milan two days later, arriving just hours before the ceremony. She had a couple of interviews, put on a nice outfit, walked the green carpet, and went out to dinner afterwards with her USWNT teammates. A whirlwind of glitz, and then back to the grind of finishing out the Red Stars season strong.
It might have seemed surreal, standing there in a room packed to bursting with a large percentage of the world’s best footballing talent. Ertz said she and her teammates didn’t particularly talk about it, a combination of her individually not having all the words, and the group collectively understanding what this meant to each other. “We just couldn’t stop saying congratulations,” she said. “I think obviously with your teammates, you know their behind the scenes journey and what it takes to get there. You’ve seen the good and the bad, the struggles and the celebrations. So I think having that and having four other of my teammates there who have seen me through my good days and bad days and supporting me through it all, that was a really special moment of standing on the stage and looking to my left and my right and being like wow, I know your journey, you know mine.”
And despite the high-wattage football superpowers in the room, Ertz said even though it was clearly an honor, it wasn’t particularly a party atmosphere, at least not for her. “Everyone’s had their own thing to do, everyone’s all in their season, so everyone has to get back pretty quick,” she said. “Honestly I was pretty jet lagged and tired.”
That’s not something you want to hear from a player that plenty of fans have concerns about in terms of load management; she was played heavily during the World Cup, particularly during the crucible of knockouts, and is now critical to the Red Stars lineup. You’re just as likely to see fans tweet “let Julie Ertz rest” as to laud her game performance. Ertz laughed, amused and touched at the same time by the concern. “My energy is really high really excited and I feel good,” she said. “Appreciate that support and thoughtfulness, but I’ve been lucky to have some really good coaches around me to make sure that I can help perform, and being a defender now with the Red Stars, that kind of switch as well has helped me change my load as well.”
Now with the Red Stars clinching second place in the regular season, guaranteeing a home semifinal, Ertz will be turning towards finally getting Chicago that championship. “Obviously I’ve been in the semifinals for five or six years now,” she said (the Red Stars haven’t missed playoffs since 2014). “We can’t quite get out of there to get to the finals, so really wanting to get out of being in the semifinals. Obviously Chicago’s near and dear to my heart because I’ve been here the whole time in my [career] so it would be really really special to be able to bring a championship here.”