Julie Ertz was soccer star before Zach’s Super Bowl bid

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By ANNE M. PETERSON

AP Sports Writer

Julie Ertz has a world championship and Player of the Year honors in her sport. So she’s already got an edge on husband Zach – that is, if they were competitive.

She says the athletic couple doesn’t really try to one-up each other all that much.

“Maybe in board games,” she says with a laugh.

Julie and Zach are currently the sporting world’s “It” couple. Julie is a midfielder for the World Cup-winning U.S. national soccer team, while her husband Zach is a tight end for the Super Bowl-bound Philadelphia Eagles. The joke is that they both play football, just different kinds.

Just as Zach was in Canada for the 2015 World Cup final cheering on Julie, she’ll be rooting for him on Sunday in Minneapolis. In fact, she’s already there, acting as a correspondent for the U.S. team’s Twitter feed .

The couple was married last March after a romance that started when Julie, then Julie Johnston, was an emerging soccer star at Santa Clara and Zach was playing at Stanford.

Julie’s career took off in 2015, well before Zach reached the NFL’s biggest stage, when she was selected by national team coach Jill Ellis for the World Cup roster. At 23, she was the second-youngest player on the squad for soccer’s premier tournament.

“You train as if whenever you’re called upon you’re ready,” she said. “I think that was a huge mentality that was important for me. I know I really wanted to make the team, but I knew that I had a long way to go. So I tried every day to take it day by day and really learn anything I could at practice, and do every extra thing that I thought I needed to do.”

Johnston played on a backline that included Meghan Klingenberg, Becky Sauerbrunn and Ali Krieger. The defense was anchored by Hope Solo, who was spectacular in goal. The group went 540 minutes during the tournament without conceding a goal on the way to a 5-2 final victory over Japan.

With her trademark baby-blue headband, Johnston quickly proved she was one of the sport’s fastest-rising stars. Today, she’s introspective about her world championship.

“I could give you 1,000 moments that were special, but looking back it was the journey, and everything that I learned about myself and what I didn’t think I could do,” she said. “I learned a lot, and it really pushed my love for the sport even more than I already loved it.”

She shifted to a defensive midfielder position with the national team last year and did well. At the Tournament of Nations she came in as a substitute and scored the winner of a 4-3 victory in the 89th minute.

She played at that position the rest of the season, scoring six goals, including two against New Zealand. In December she was selected the national team’s Player of the Year, earning more than half of all the votes.

But probably the happiest thing she did last year was marry Zach. The two tied the knot in March in California.

Zach, 27, is in his fifth season with the Eagles. He broke out this season with 824 receiving yards, behind only New England’s Rob Gronkowski (1,084) and Kansas City’s Travis Kelce (1,038) among the ends. His eight touchdowns were double his previous career high, and he had eight catches for 93 yards in the NFC championship game.

The two were apart when the Eagles clinched their spot in the Super Bowl with a 38-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Julie was in San Diego for a national team match against Denmark. She was among the players who scored in the 5-1 victory.

Afterward, when she was told Zach was going to the Super Bowl, she burst into tears .

“Zach knew I was there obviously in spirit and I was praying for him and I was excited for him and cheering him from miles away,” she said. “It’s a part of our job and we sacrifice a lot, and time’s the biggest thing. But to find out that they are going to the Super Bowl was amazing, exciting, emotional. It’s really cool to see your loved one’s hard work pay off.”

That’s part of the mutual respect their marriage is built on.

“She understands how hard I worked and how hard this team worked to get to this point. We’re each other’s No. 1 fan. Our relationship wasn’t built on the athletic success. We truly love each other and that’s the most important thing,” Zach said.

To that end, Julie said it’s Zach’s turn in the spotlight.

“This is his time,” she said. “I’m here. I’m a fan! I’m going to be in the stands, cheering with everyone else.”

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