In their opening match of the She Believes Cup tournament against the Czech Republic, the U.S. women’s national team had bright moments all over the field, flashes of potential like a precise Rose Lavelle pass, an elusive dribble move from Sophia Smith or a flying run into space from Trinity Rodman.

» READ MORE: U.S. women’s national team struggles in transition to new generation with scoreless draw against Czech Republic

Still, none of it culminated in a goal. It’s been a while since the American squad could not score against a team ranked 20th or more in the FIFA standings. The last time it happened was in 2015 at the Algarve Cup, when the USA had another scoreless draw against Iceland.

On the bench for that match in the Portugal tournament was defender Julie Johnston, who would start the next game against France and score her first international goal of what is now 20 for the U.S. team. The U.S. would go on to win, 2-0, becoming Algarve Cup champions that year.

Now of course, that dynamic player is Julie Ertz, having married NFL player Zach Ertz on March 26, 2017. That same year resulted in a positional shift from defender to the midfield, where she could have an even greater and more constant impact on any game.

It isn’t that Ertz is so blazingly swift or that she plays the game with incredible creativity and guile. There are other players around the world and even on her own national team that outshine her in those areas. What Ertz contains in greater magnitude than perhaps any other player, however, is sheer effectiveness. She isn’t trying to trick anyone when she charges into the box to connect a header to a looping cross. She’s trying to score. The opposition can often see her coming, know exactly her intention and yet are often helpless to stop it.

A similar thing happens when Ertz is trying to take the ball from an attacker. Her positional awareness, hustle and anticipation are great, but beyond that, her sheer relentlessness is often the crucial difference to her success.

Ahead of the SheBelieves tournament kickoff, U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski didn’t seem too concerned about not having Ertz on the roster.

“We’re very happy with the growth of Andi Sullivan in her role as a six,” Andonovski said, referring to the position Ertz now usually plays on the field.

“There are other players that can fulfill the role if needed. We have Jaelin Howell; she’s here with us and she’s done well. Morgan [Guatrat] has experience playing as a six and even though she’s more of an eight, when needed, she can drop in as a six or in a role of a double six. I think that she is another one that can do a very good job. So we’re not worried about it at all.”

Neither Andonovski or U.S. Soccer have commented on whether Ertz is not on the current roster to fully rehabilitate a knee injury that hampered her throughout 2021 (MCL strain) or if she may possibly be taking a break from the sport, perhaps to have a child.

Her NWSL club, Angel City FC, did not include Ertz on their preseason roster of players. The club holds her rights if she decides to play in the league this season, though she does not have a signed contract with them.

A source with knowledge of the situation told The Inquirer that Angel City does not expect Ertz to play for the club this year, but if she does play in the NWSL this year, it will be for Angel City.

However, the team feeling Ertz’s absence the most at present is likely the U.S. women’s squad. Replacing what Ertz offers in a committee form, with various players attempting to do what she alone does so well, has not worked so far.

Andonovski admitted the team fell short after the game against the Czech Republic, pointing out that most of the Americans were in preseason, not having played club games of late.

“We all know that how we look and where we’re at is nowhere good enough to win big games.”

Stepping up when the pressure is greatest, imposing one’s will on the game — it’s not as if anyone on the field for the U.S. played badly or made a bad mistake, but the willingness and ability to find an extra gear to make a difference seemed to be missing in the match. Clearly, Ertz wasn’t there.

Staff writer Jonathan Tannenwald contributed to this report.