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Julie Ertz is the USWNT’s most important player, but it’s not because of her goals

Julie Ertz proved she’s the USWNT’s most important player against Spain.

The United States Women’s National Team beat Spain, 1-0, Sunday evening thanks to a heroic late goal from Julie Ertz. Headers don’t get much better than this.

Her goal might have been the highlight of the game, but it arguably wasn’t even Ertz’s biggest contribution. Without her hard work in midfield, Spain probably would have scored.

The USWNT’s opponents on the night had a lot more possession and, for the first 60 minutes, had little problem passing the Americans’ first line of defense. In his postgame press conference, USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski admitted Spain beat his team’s press and pinned them deep.

There are games in which Ertz doesn’t have to do much. Three days earlier against England, the five players in front of her performed so well that she didn’t need to be the standout player. But with the American press and attack struggling against Spain, Ertz took over the game, winning tackles and interceptions all over the pitch.

The USWNT mostly sat in its shape in the first half, but late in the game, Ertz sensed that her team needed a bit more from her. At the point in the match when most players get tired, Ertz turned up the intensity. It felt like she was sprinting for the entire final half-hour. Her tireless defensive work caused Spain’s opportunities to dry up.

Here is Ertz, encapsulated. Less than two minutes after scoring what turned out to be the game-winning goal, she was making plays like this one. Forget holding onto the lead, Ertz was determined to not let Spain progress the ball out of their own half in the dying minutes of the match.

“I think Julie Ertz is the best player in the world,” her club coach Rory Dames said after the NWSL Championship in October. “If you can find a better leader somewhere, I’d be happy to sit down and go point for point with them. I don’t have enough words or enough time to generally share how special I think Julie is both as a soccer player and as a person.”

On Friday, Andonovski shared similar sentiments.

“I don’t know if I can say this, but I start getting the feeling that Julie Ertz might be the most important player for this squad,” Andonovski said. “I didn’t know that until I started working with this team, but the more we work and the more we play and the more games we get, I just start getting the feeling like this team revolves around her.”

Ertz was far and away the best player on the pitch against Spain, just like she was in the USWNT’s tough World Cup knockout stage matches against England and France. She always finds an extra gear when the team is struggling. She’s now undoubtedly the team’s most important player.