Football: Football Ferns pioneer Abby Erceg retires for third time months before home World Cup

Football Ferns pioneer Abby Erceg has retired for a third time in her illustious career, just months out from a once-in-a-lifetime chance to play a World Cup on home soil.

With no official statement coming from Erceg herself, Football NZ has seemingly made the announcement on her behalf, as the NZ women prepare to take on world champions USA in two match at Wellington and Auckland.

"We respect Abby's decision to step away from the national team set-up and focus on her club career," said Football Ferns coach Jitka Klimkova. "Abby has been an important part of the Ferns journey and her legacy in the game here is indescribable.

"We wish her all the best for the future."

The timing of the retirement - and the announcement - is curious.

Over her career, Erceg has set the standard for women's football in New Zealand, becoming the first player - male or female - to log 100 tests for her country, while attending four World Cups and four Olympics.

After 146 caps, the lure of another World Cup seemingly isn't as strong as it once was.

"She said to me that it doesn't matter if it's her fifth or sixth World Cup," former teammate Maia Jackman told Stuff. "It's not different to a fourth.

"The first was cool, the second was cool, but she wants to be in a team that is performing all the time."

Away from the NZ team, Erceg has carved out a successful club career, currently captain of North Carolina Courage in the American NWSL, after helping them to titles in 2018 and 2019.

Abby Erceg celebrates North Carolina's NWSL victory in 2019
Abby Erceg celebrates North Carolina's NWSL victory in 2019. Photo credit: Getty Images

She has retired from the national side twice before, citing dysfunction within NZ Football in February 2017.

"Without being able to justify my involvement any longer, I will be stepping back in the hopes to create change for the current and future generations of NZ footballers," she said.

Erceg returned under a different coach 12 months later, retired again in May 2018, but returned again in January 2019, after another coaching change. She last played for New Zealand at the 2022 SheBelieves Cup in the United States.

"I think she's disappointed in where the Ferns have gone since the peak of 2013 and then the loss of funding in 2015 has been a real blow to the team," Jackman told Stuff. "The lack of resources haven't helped the team push on in her eyes.

"She's all about enjoying her football and wasn't enjoying it in that environment."

Klimkova informally addressed Erceg's retirement earlier this month, when naming the squad for the USA series, but NZ Football has confirmed it on the eve of a landmark encounter on NZ soil.

Newshub has reached out to Erceg for comment.