Julie Ertz, a back to back FIFA World Cup champion and a 2-time U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year recipient, is retiring from the sport, U.S. Soccer announced Thursday.

"As an athlete you're always singularly focused on the next goal, the next tournament and rarely do you get time to reflect on your career," Ertz said. "However, over the past couple of months my heart has been filled with gratitude as I've thought about the amazing experiences soccer has given me."

Ertz, 31, played as a central defender in the 2015 World Cup and a central midfielder in the 2019 Cup.

She is the only player to win the U.S. Soccer Young Female Player of the Year and the U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year twice, in 2017 and 2019.

Ertz, née Johnston, is also a two-time Olympian. She played in the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and made a comeback after a knee injury in the pandemic-delayed 2021 games in Tokyo, in which she started in five of the six matches and played the second-most total minutes across the tournament.

Following the 2021 Olympics, Ertz took 18 months away from the game due to sustaining injuries and welcoming a son, but returned to the field in the 2023 World Cup, in which she played every minute of four matches.

Ertz was drafted third overall to the National Women's Soccer League by the Chicago Red Stars in 2014, and won the league's Rookie of the Year award that year.

Ertz joins her teammate Megan Rapinoe in retiring. Former U.S. Women's National Team coach Vlatko Andonovksi stepped down earlier this month.

In a farewell message, Ertz thanked her teams and colleagues, fans and family.

"Finally, to the game of soccer. You have shaped every part of who I am," she said. "My relationship with my faith, my character, friendships, travel, college, heck, just my daily routine. It's a sad thing to reflect and know the game just moves on without you. The game doesn't owe you anything but it has given me so much. What a truly beautiful game it is. I'm just grateful for the time we had."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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