Tuesday 27 August 2019, 14:30

Swanson: Fearless Ertz key to USA’s World Cup glory

  • USA midfielder Julie Ertz nominated for The Best FIFA Women’s Player

  • Steve Swanson has coached Ertz since a U-20 World Cup triumph in 2012

  • “She sets the example on the field”

When considering the USA’s swaggering run to the pinnacle of football at the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™, it’s easy to pin their success on that formidable attack: Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan leading the way with Rose Lavelle bursting forward to join the fray.

All three are deserving nominees for The Best Women’s Player at the upcoming FIFA Football Awards. Still, there’s another USA representative on the list, and her contributions to the Stars and Stripes lifting the trophy in Lyon cannot be understated.

“One of the main reasons we won it all is because we had a healthy Julie Ertz,” Steve Swanson, a USA assistant at the 2015 and 2019 World Cups, told FIFA.com. “She sets the example on the field. There’s no fear about the physical side of things when she plays. I think it’s an inspiration to her team-mates.”

In addition to his duties with the senior USA team, Swanson has helmed the University of Virginia women’s soccer program for 19 years, taking over from former USA head coach April Heinrichs. He’s seen the likes of Becky Sauerbrunn, Morgan Brian and many other talented players matriculate through his program.

The first world championship for both Swanson and Ertz came seven years ago, at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup 2012 in Japan, with Swanson as head coach and Ertz (then Julie Johnston) his captain.

Julie Johnston (C) of the United States U-20 makes a circle with team-mates

“She was voted as our captain by the team, and it was pretty overwhelming,” said Swanson. “In many ways she put the team on her back, especially on the defensive side, time and time again.

“There’s no better example than her performance in the 2012 final. What a match against Germany and [Dzsenifer] Marozsan, who has also gone on to have an amazing senior career. But Julie had a fantastic game that day, and in my opinion was the best player on the pitch in many ways.”

The USA defeated a strong Germany side 1-0 in that final, with Ertz repeatedly denying feverish attacking moves from Marozsan and Co at her centre-back position. So dominant was her presence throughout the tournament that she was awarded the adidas Bronze Ball, an honour not often bestowed upon defenders.

An ‘unrivaled’ competitor

Despite Ertz’s pedigree at U-20 level, Swanson said there are no guarantees that a player can translate youth dominance to a successful senior career. So how has Ertz done it, all while making a switch from centre-back to defensive midfielder?

“She’s got a real spirit about her,” said Swanson. “When you watch her play, she has a unique skillset. She brings an unrivaled sense of competitiveness to every training session and game she plays.

“Julie is brave. She’s courageous. She does all the little things that prevent teams from getting opportunities on goal. She did that back [in 2012], and I think she’s done that even more so now with the full team.”

Swanson knows how it feels to be recognised by the world football community. He was nominated for the FIFA Women’s Coach of the Year award in 2012, though then-USA senior head coach Pia Sundhage ultimately took home the prize.

“These [awards] are things that you don’t really think about until they happen,” said Swanson. “And then when they happen, they can give you confidence and assurance.

“When I look at Julie, I think it’s a kind of confirmation. I give her a lot of credit. Being up for this award shows how much she is respected in the world.”