USA's Julie Ertz on retirement: 'Not because Momma can't play'

USWNT's Ertz on retirement: It's not because Momma can't play; Momma can play (0:52)

USWNT's Julie Ertz talks about her decision to retire ahead of her farewell match vs. South Africa. (0:52)

U.S. women's national team defender Julie Ertz said that her looming retirement isn't because she can no longer play at the highest level, but that her priorities have shifted more towards her family.

Ertz will play for the USWNT one last time on Thursday, when the U.S. faces South Africa in a friendly at Cincinnati's TQL Stadium. She will finish with 123 appearances for the U.S. and will be looking to add to her haul of 20 international goals.

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Ertz had stated after the Americans' World Cup elimination at the hands of Sweden that the match would be her last in a U.S. jersey. She later had a slight change of heart to play one last time for the U.S. But even with the Olympics set to take place in 10 months, Ertz felt that now was the time to step away from professional soccer.

"There's always the next opportunity, and your whole career as an athlete, you're like, 'I don't want to regret anything,'" she told reporters on Wednesday.

"And I think when I get to a point to be able to choose myself, when I could step away ... 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 [her] priorities.' 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."

She added: "I think time with my family is just irreplaceable, especially with just where [son] Madden is and his age."

Ertz will go down as one of the best defensive players to ever suit up for the USWNT. She was deployed as a center back on the 2015 World Cup-winning side. But when the needs of the team changed ahead of the 2019 tournament, she moved into a holding midfield role and was instrumental in the U.S. defending its title.

Ertz made a sensational comeback to the U.S. earlier this year just eight months after giving birth to Madden, and was one of the few American players to show well at the Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, leading a back line that conceded just once the entire tournament.

That level of performance will be difficult to replace, though she departs with the program's gratitude and understanding.

"It's hard to say goodbye, but it's also a 'good' hard," said U.S. interim manager Twila Kilgore. "We know what we're losing, but [it's] good because we know how happy Julie is with her career, how happy we all are with her career, but also how happy she is with the next phase of life she's moving into."

As content as Ertz is with her decision, there are things she will miss, even beyond the games that get played.

"I just love the environment of just women's soccer," she said "I just love getting up, competing and just all the banter that happens in practice and games. So obviously you're going to miss game day. You're going to list all that stuff. I feel like at this point, when you just reflect on everything, you're just going to miss everything. But I think just competing and winning is probably the one I'm going to miss the most."

Ertz added that the team's performance at the World Cup was "disappointing" but that she fully expects the USWNT to rebound. When the U.S. exited the 2016 Olympics at the quarterfinal stage, the team bounced back to win the 2019 World Cup.

"It's really about how you learn from this," she said, referring to the 2023 World Cup. "And I know that there was obviously plenty [of] first-timers at the World Cup, and I'm excited to see their comeback."

Ertz had a simple philosophy on how that recovery would be accomplished.

"The way to get back on top is you've got to win," she said. "So that's a bunch of things. I feel like it's so obvious. I could sit here and be like, well, this and that. At the end of the day, you have to score goals, you have to get them back in the net and you can't make excuses."