For each training camp over the past year, Vlatko Andonovski has made selections to the U.S. women’s national soccer team from a pool of about 30 players. Some have been unavailable because of injuries and others were left off for competitive reasons, but there have not been a lot of surprises.
With the World Cup less than four months away, Andonovski on Tuesday revealed a stunner: Julie Ertz, a key figure in the 2015 and 2019 championship campaigns, is back in the picture after being inactive for almost 20 months.
Ertz, who was on maternity leave throughout 2022, was among 26 players named to the roster for friendlies against Ireland on April 8 in Austin and April 11 in St. Louis. They are the final tests before Andonovski selects his 23-woman squad for the World Cup, hosted by Australia and New Zealand and set for July 20 to Aug. 20.
“We’re excited to have Julie back,” Andonovski said during a video conference call with reporters. “We know the quality she has and if she comes anywhere near her best, she will certainly help us to win a World Cup.”
Ertz, who turns 31 on April 6, has not played for the top-ranked United States since the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. She hasn’t appeared in an NWSL match in almost two years. By not signing with any club this past winter, she seemed out of the running for the World Cup squad.
But Andonovski said Ertz is in negotiations to restart her NWSL career, a move that would allow her to use league competition to improve her fitness and form. Andonovski will evaluate not just the Ireland friendlies but NWSL matches before making his World Cup choices in June.
“It’s very exciting to be back with the team again and I’m grateful to have this opportunity,” Ertz said in a statement. “I have to work out details in regards to my club situation, but I am very thankful to [husband] Zach, my family, and U.S. Soccer for the amazing support they have provided to get me back to this point.”
Ertz has been working with a high-performance coach and training with an MLS boys’ academy team, said Andonovski, who watched her work out and talked with her about what she will need to do to make the World Cup squad.
“Throughout this process, we were in constant communication,” Andonovski said. “We wanted to give Julie enough time to settle herself, get back on track or get back in the game properly. And when she gets back, we want her to be in the best possible place, physically and mentally.”
Ertz will arrive at camp next week as the sixth-most-experienced player on the squad with 116 appearances and 20 goals. She was a starting center back on the 2015 team that won the World Cup in Canada and transitioned into a hard-nosed defensive midfielder on the 2019 squad in France. In the two tournaments combined, Ertz started 13 of 14 matches.
“I’ve been training hard, excited to see where I’m at physically and getting better each day,” Ertz said in her statement. “I am going into this camp the same way I always have, to compete with the best women in the world.”
Andonovski also invited back defender Casey Krueger, who has resumed her career this season after returning from maternity leave. She last played for the United States in the fall of 2021.
Star forward Sophia Smith, two-time World Cup defender Kelley O’Hara and defender Tierna Davidson have returned from injury.
Left out — but still very much in the running for a World Cup ticket — was forward Megan Rapinoe (calf injury). Forward Catarina Macario, one of the world’s top young players, continues to recover from an ACL injury and was not chosen. She, too, will remain under consideration as she reintegrates with French power Olympique Lyonnais this spring.
Four Washington Spirit players were selected: midfielders Andi Sullivan and Ashley Sanchez and forwards Trinity Rodman and Ashley Hatch.
“I know there is a lot of pressure on the players as the competition for World Cup spots increases, but that’s not something we shy away from,” Andonovski said in a statement before fielding questions from reporters. “We talk about it, and we embrace it, as we all know these players make each other better.”
The upcoming matches at MLS stadiums against Ireland, a first-time World Cup participant, are almost sold out, the U.S. Soccer Federation said. The U.S. team will play a send-off match, expected to be on the West Coast, in early July before setting up training camp in Auckland, New Zealand. The Group E opener is July 22 against Vietnam, followed by matches against 2019 runner-up Netherlands and Portugal.
Goalkeepers: Adrianna Franch (Kansas City Current), Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars).
Defenders: Alana Cook (OL Reign), Tierna Davidson (Chicago), Emily Fox (North Carolina), Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns), Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave), Sofia Huerta (OL Reign), Casey Krueger (Chicago), Kelley O’Hara (Gotham FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland), Emily Sonnett (OL Reign).
Midfielders: Julie Ertz (free agent), Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyonnais), Taylor Kornieck (San Diego), Rose Lavelle (OL Reign), Kristie Mewis (Gotham FC), Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit), Andi Sullivan (Washington).
Forwards: Ashley Hatch (Washington), Alex Morgan (San Diego), Trinity Rodman (Washington), Sophia Smith (Portland), Mallory Swanson (Chicago), Lynn Williams (Gotham FC).