Four years ago, Julie Ertz was one of the breakout stars of the U.S. women’s soccer team’s World Cup title run. Now she is a stalwart of the squad as it embarks on a quest to repeat as champion.
Ertz plays a crucial role as the defensive anchor in midfield. Her mix of constant hustle and tenacious tackling makes her name one of the first to be written into every starting lineup. She relishes the high standards set by fans and colleagues that have made the U.S. the team to beat for so long.
“This is why we do it: We want to win,” Ertz told The Inquirer in an interview before leaving for France. “I know everyone throws out the word pressure, but there’s no more pressure than we put upon ourselves.”
The pressure has been especially strong since the Americans crashed out of the 2016 Olympics in the quarterfinals. Though they’re the reigning World Cup champions, they’re coming to France with that sour taste still lingering. The World Cup starts Friday, with the U.S. playing its first game June 11.
“I remember all of those games pretty vividly,” Ertz said. “It’s kind of hard, because of course you want to forget certain things, which you have to do to move on. But at the same time, you don’t want to lose that, because I think those are times that you learn a lot about yourself, a lot about the team.”
While Ertz is known nationally for her soccer exploits, she is also known in Philadelphia as half of one of the local sports scene’s power couples. Eagles two-time Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz will be in France for much of the tournament, watching Julie from the stands.
Zach keeps a national team jersey customized with “MR. ERTZ" on the back in his locker at the NovaCare Complex, as well as a Union jersey acquired when the U.S. women played in Chester in February.
“He’s my No. 1 supporter and fan,” Julie said. “To be able to have him there — and obviously, hopefully celebrate with him in the end — I’m very grateful for him and his support, and of course the [Eagles’] as well.”
Zach is far from the only soccer fan in the Eagles’ locker room. Down at the NovaCare Complex, world football shows up increasingly often on TVs alongside America’s game. Jay Ajayi is a renowned fan of English club Arsenal, Jalen Mills regularly attends the U.S. men’s team’s games here, and a big flock of Birds — including Carson Wentz and Jason Kelce — attended the February U.S. women’s team game.
Because Julie plays her club soccer in Chicago for the NWSL’s Red Stars, she and Zach don’t get to spend much time together. It’s even more true in a World Cup year.
But there is no doubt that she considers Philadelphia to be home.
“I love Philly so much,” Julie said at the national team’s recent World Cup media day. “The fan base is just — and I mean that in the most amazing way — they are behind you no matter what."
Although both Ertzes have put trophies on the mantel, the benefits they’ve reaped are far from equal. Zach’s salary is around $8.5 million a year, while Julie’s is around $200,000. And even with the many per-game bonuses in the U.S. women’s soccer team’s pay structure, there’s still a huge gap.
There are many factors in that, of course, including the billions of dollars the NFL generates from merchandise and media-rights deals. No one denies that Zach earns what he’s paid. But the U.S. women’s team is plenty popular too, and has far less support from corporate America. Julie and her teammates have only started getting significant endorsement deals in the last few years.
It’s an issue within the soccer realm, too. Suspicions — and some proof — that the U.S. Soccer Federation doesn’t treat the businesses of women’s soccer and men’s soccer the same way fueled the women’s team’s recent lawsuit against the governing body.
Their commercial potential is already big enough that it shouldn’t take winning another World Cup to fully unleash it. But if the Americans win it all again this summer, perhaps the dam will finally break.
“Our team can really make a statement,” she said, later adding, “I saw that in 2015, with the support that we had, and I only hope to inspire and make the country proud."