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Julie Ertz injury, Christen Press trade drama hit U.S. women's soccer team roster vs. Mexico

Julie Ertz will miss the U.S. women's soccer team's two-game series against Mexico in April due to a knee injury she suffered while playing for the national team at the SheBelieves Cup a few weeks ago.

Julie Ertz is out of the United States women’s national soccer team’s April games against Mexico due to a knee injury she suffered during the SheBelieves Cup game against Germany.
Julie Ertz is out of the United States women’s national soccer team’s April games against Mexico due to a knee injury she suffered during the SheBelieves Cup game against Germany.Read moreGregory Bull/AP

Julie Ertz will miss the U.S. women's soccer team's two-game series against Mexico in April due to a knee injury she suffered while playing for the national team at the SheBelieves Cup a few weeks ago. The knee had been bothering her before then, and it was aggravated during the March 1 game against Germany.

The U.S. will host its southern neighbor on April 5 in Jacksonville (7 p.m., Fox Sports and Univision Deportes) and April 8 in Houston (1:30 p.m., Fox).

Ertz's club coach, Rory Dames of the Chicago Red Stars, recently told reporters in Chicago that Ertz is "still a few weeks away" from being able to play. The national team hasn't yet announced when its next games will be after the Mexico series, but they're likely to next play during a FIFA international window in early June. Given the timeline, confirmation of those games could come soon.

There are quite a few notable absences from the 23-player squad called up by head coach Jill Ellis on Tuesday. The biggest name is Christen Press, who has been at the center of the National Women's Soccer League's biggest offseason drama.

Press was traded to the Houston Dash in January as part of a three-team blockbuster that also involved Delran's Carli Lloyd and Australian star Sam Kerr. There were suspicions at the time that Press might not actually play for the Dash, though, if she didn't want to be in Houston. U.S. women's national team stars have a lot of leverage in that regard, because their contracts are paid by the U.S. Soccer Federation and not NWSL teams.

Dash coach Vera Pauw told the Houston Chronicle a few days after the deal that she thought Press would come to Houston. Soon thereafter, news surfaced of interest from big-spending French club Paris Saint-Germain, and that the interest might be mutual. But Press didn't go, fueling the hope that she would stick with the Dash.

On March 10, the whole thing blew up when the Houston Chronicle reported that Press wanted out. A few days later, the Guardian reported that Press never wanted to play for Houston in the first place, and that she had made her view clear. The Dash have been trying to trade her for a while, to no avail. They want to replace not just Press' goal-scoring talents, but her ticket-selling talents too.

The Seattle Reign seemed like a potential destination at one point, then didn't, but might still be. There are reportedly multiple offers from clubs in Sweden, where Press played from 2012 to 2014.

NWSL interim commissioner Amanda Duffy said Wednesday that the matter could be settled before the league's sixth season kicks off on Saturday, "and we anticipate that it will be."

Duffy also said "there's nothing that would prevent it from continuing after the start of the season," and added that a decision "ultimately … needs to be made by the player at this time."

There has been a lot of acrimony among the parties involved, and it has only gotten louder. It grew louder still on Wednesday, as Ellis brought a bullhorn into the room with her roster announcement.

"We've had several conversations and she understands our expectations are that a consistent training and match environment for a professional is an important factor for selection into women's national team rosters," Ellis said in a statement issued by U.S. Soccer. "Since the SheBelieves Cup, our professional players returned to pre-season training with their clubs and have had multiple scrimmages in preparation for the opening weekend. I am certain that once Christen transitions to a new team, she will embrace being back on the pitch and will help her team be successful."

Those are pretty strong words from the normally mild-mannered coach.

Ellis also dropped right back Taylor Smith from the roster after she had a bad outing in the SheBelieves Cup game against France. Smith, 24, was considered at one point to be the top long-term prospect at the position. But she was out-dueled in that game by French star Eugénie Le Sommer, and Ellis made the rare move of substituting Smith out before halftime.

"I probably should have made the substitution 10 minutes earlier," Ellis said afterward. "What I saw at that point was a player that was struggling to deal with the situation."

A few other absences are due to long-term injuries. Rose Lavelle continues to rehabilitate a hamstring problem that has caused her trouble since last summer. Samantha Mewis is finishing off recovery from a knee injury she suffered in the U.S.' game at Canada last November.

Tobin Heath is rehabbing after offseason surgery on her right ankle. That followed an injury to her left ankle during last year's NWSL title game in October that put the Basking Ridge, N.J., native out of commission through November. And both of those injuries followed a battle with back problems that kept her off the field for the Portland Thorns for most of 2017.

Heath will also miss the Thorns' first game of the year, a title game rematch against the North Carolina Courage on Saturday (3:30 p.m., Lifetime).

"We're being very patient with our injured players, and when they're ready, we'll have them back in," Ellis said.

Amid all the bad news, there is some good news: Becky Sauerbrunn is back after missing the January training camp and the SheBelieves Cup due to a stress reaction in her left foot.

Here's the full roster:

Goalkeepers (3): Jane Campbell (Houston Dash), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

Defenders (7): Abby Dahlkemper (North Carolina Courage), Tierna Davidson (Stanford University), Sofia Huerta (Chicago Red Stars); Kelley O'Hara (Utah Royals), Casey Short (Chicago Red Stars), Becky Sauerbrunn (Utah Royals), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns)

Midfielders (5): Morgan Brian (Olympique Lyon, France), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns), Carli Lloyd (Sky Blue FC), Allie Long (Seattle Reign), Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit)

Forwards (7): Crystal Dunn (North Carolina Courage), Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit); Savannah McCaskill (Sky Blue FC), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Mallory Pugh (Washington Spirit), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign), Lynn Williams (North Carolina Courage)