It’s a long-standing tradition for the U.S. Women’s National Team to have a post-World Cup tour, and this tour started off with a match against South Africa in Cincinnati. But, with a performance at the World Cup that was below expectations, that’s not really what the team’s celebrating. Rather, what was on everyone’s mind was celebrating Julie Ertz and her career. This match was announced as her last, with her retiring immediately after the match’s conclusion.
There were two changes in the starting eleven from the World Cup match versus Sweden. Lynn Williams stepped in for the injured Sophia Smith. Julie Ertz moved from centerback to midfield, with Andi Sullivan stepping out and Alana Cook stepping into the defense.
Once the game kicked off, you really could see that Ertz was what was on the player’s minds. Ertz was actively bombing forward into the attacking line, with the players, and particularly Lindsey Horan, trying to feed her the ball. However, in the opening 20 minutes, the USWNT struggled to generate shots on goal. They got into the box and got set pieces, but couldn’t convert them into serious chances. Julie Ertz did manage to get her head onto the ball after it was whipped in from a corner, but the chance went well above the goal. Shortly after, the US gave up a chance, but the shot wasn’t particularly dangerous and Naeher smothered it easily.
Instead, the first properly dangerous moment came from South Africa, with Thembi Kgatlana, the South African striker, almost getting around Naeher. However, the referee judged that she had pushed the ball over the line instead of merely on it, giving the US both a goal kick and a reprieve.
It wasn’t until the 21st minute that the USWNT finally get a shot on target. Again, from a corner, and again, from Ertz. But the US then immediately let South Africa get into their final third through a counter attack. The immediate attack didn’t lead to a chance, but the US was unable to clear or build up out of their half, so South Africa recycled and eventually got a shot. And that was the story again and again. The US would get into the opposing final third, see the attack break down before a particularly threatening chance, and then immediately concede a more threatening moment to South Africa.
The USWNT continued to try to force a goal for Ertz, but this time, it led to a goal. Just not from Ertz. In the 31st minute, the US got a corner and whipped in to Ertz who, again, got a head to it. But it wasn’t going in...until Lynn Williams directed it back towards goal. South Africa tried to clear it off the line, but by then, it was too late. The referee called it, 1-0 USA.
Moments later, it was 2-0. Ertz won the ball and played into Horan. Horan played a through ball for Alex Morgan to run onto and Morgan turned it into a real classic moment, putting a cross through the gap between the defenders and the keeper to hand Trinity Rodman a tap-in.
And then Ertz’s day was done. She came out in the 35th minute, handing the armband to Horan and stepping out for Andi Sullivan. 123 caps, two World Cup titles.
Of course, the USWNT’s night wasn’t over at that point. The US got another corner which was put in to the near post to Horan. Horan gave a gorgeous, one-time flick to put it into the box and then, once again, it was Williams there to ... er... bounce ... it in.
In the second half, things slowed back down. M.A. Vignola came on for Crystal Dunn at left back, making her debut. She got a little bit bit exposed, with a South African player able to tiptoe to the byline in the box, but the neat little cut-back didn’t find anybody and was clear. From there, the US was able to get down the field and attack again, but neither Morgan nor Horan could put in a shot before Williams hit it just wide of the post. There were a couple of moments late in the match, but, with three first half goals, the game was really just well and done by that point.
From here, the USWNT heads to Chicago for a second bout with South Africa on Sunday, with that game serving as the send-off for Megan Rapinoe.