It's as if Sam Kerr called time on her Matildas career on the eve of this year's World Cup on home soil. Unimaginable.

And yet - across the ditch, a comparable story is playing out, where New Zealand legend Abby Erceg has abandoned playing in the co-hosted tournament in front of Kiwi fans.

A classy central defender, Erceg is one of New Zealand's most decorated players.

The 33-year-old has played at the last four World Cups and four Olympic Games.

With 49 caps as captain, no man or woman has led New Zealand soccer more often.

At club level, she has excelled in America, leading her NWSL club side North Carolina Courage to plenty of silverware, including three titles as captain.

However, Erceg's name has been absent from squads in recent months, including a two-match local series with world No.1 United States this week where she is sorely needed.

The Football Ferns, well down football's pecking order as world No.24, are fielding an under-strength side against the reigning world champions.

Clubs in Australia and Europe have chosen not to release Kiwi players for the series, leaving coach Jitka Klimkova without experienced centre-backs for the toughest test in world football.

Erceg's absence has been a major talking point for months, and on Tuesday, New Zealand Football officially ruled a line through her name for the July tournament.

In a statement which did not feature a comment from the US-based star, the governing body said Erceg had chosen to "focus on her club career" with North Carolina Courage in the NWSL - where she is a two-time title-winning captain.

Klimkova said she respected her decision.

"Abby Erceg is a legend. She's a role model. She has 147 caps for New Zealand. That's an incredible number and we absolutely respect her quality," coach Klimkova said.

Erceg does have form in leaving the national team setup, citing poor conditions when walking away twice prior only to return in time for the 2019 World Cup and 2021 Olympics.

Her decision to skip the 2023 tournament is a hammer blow for the Football Ferns, decidedly short on well-pedigreed players, and with just four wins in their last 30 matches.

New Zealand have reached six World Cups but never won a match, which is the team's goal on home soil this year.

Ex-teammate Maia Jackman told NZ news outlet Stuff that Erceg's absence was "a shame".

"She's a real leader, one of the best defenders in the world," Jackman said.

"It's sad but it is what it is. Jitka and the team ... have to let that one go."

Captain Ali Riley, who also plays her club football in the US, said she hadn't been able to speak to Erceg.

"Being successful as a professional player is also something that is something to be celebrated and honoured," she said.

"If we can do what makes us happy. That's the most important thing in life and this is her decision."

New Zealand face the United States in Wellington on Wednesday, January 18 and at Auckland's Eden Park on January 21.