Soccer-Ertz makes surprise return to U.S. squad for World Cup warm-up

FILE PHOTO: Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Soccer Football - Women - Group G - United States v Australia - Ibaraki Kashima Stadium, Ibaraki, Japan - July 27, 2021. Julie Ertz of the United States after the match REUTERS/Henry Romero

(Reuters) -Midfielder Julie Ertz made a surprise return to the United States squad on Tuesday for their final two international friendlies ahead of the Women's World Cup this year, following an extended absence after she gave birth to her first child.

The April 8 and April 11 matches against Ireland represent the last chance for many players to show they deserve a ticket to Australia and New Zealand in July, where the defending champions begin their quest for an unprecedented third consecutive title.

Head coach Vlatko Andonovski previously cautioned that Ertz, twice U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year, was running out of time to make the cut, as she has yet to sign with a team this season after giving birth in August.

It will be the first time the 30-year-old has played in a professional capacity since the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (in 2021), where the U.S. came away with bronze.

"(We know) if she comes anywhere near her best that she will certainly help us win a World Cup," said Andonovski, adding that he watched her recent training, which she has been conducting with a personal high-performance trainer and MLS boys academy.

"We're going to see Julie in camp and then we'll see how many minutes she's going to get," he told reporters. "She will have to earn some minutes. Nothing is going to be given."

Also returning to the fold is defender Casey Krueger, who gave birth in July, and forward Sophia Smith, the 2022 U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year who was sidelined earlier this year due to injury.

Andonovski, who took charge of the national team after the World Cup in 2019, said the team was "getting closer to how we want to look" but gave no guarantee of who will be in his 23-player squad for the tournament in July-August.

One of the United States' most recognisable figures, Megan Rapinoe of OL Reign, will not play in April due to a lower leg injury that sidelined her for the opening game of the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) season.

"It's not a serious injury, we expect to see Rapinoe back on the field pretty soon," said Andonovski.

As in other recent camps, fresh talent features prominently with 11 players included who have fewer than 30 caps, including defender Naomi Girma, who joins veterans Crystal Dunn and Becky Sauerbrunn.

Other long-serving players include midfield stalwart Lindsey Horan and forward Alex Morgan, the leading scorer in the team with 121 goals.

(Reporting by Amy Tennery in New YorkEditing by Christian Radnedge)

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