It was just a couple of weeks ago when Catarina Macario opted out of the NWSL draft to join forces with European powerhouse (and winners of five consecutive Champions League titles) Lyon.
Shortly after that, FIFA approved Macario’s change of association from Brazil to the United States.
On Monday, she earned her first minutes with the U.S. Women’s National Team in the second half. On Friday, she made her starting debut. Three minutes into the start, she celebrated her first senior goal, and catapulted herself into the conversation for a coveted spot on the Olympic roster.
According to Macario, executing on the field was the easy part.
“It almost makes it easier when you are playing against other teams because the training environment that we have here is the most competitive, intense training environment that you’ll ever get.”
The bigger challenge is standing out in training, competing for minutes with her heroes, and imbedding herself the star-studded group, which could understandably be intimidating in a locker room with no shortage of big personalities.
“They made me do a little speech in the locker room,” she said.
“I just told them how surreal it was, just how unbelievable it was, the fact that I was actually playing with the people that I grew up watching. I feel like this week, I’ve had a lot of dreams come true just in a very short amount and I’m so grateful for it,”
Her foray into the senior team was a success by all accounts, and she has already earned the respect of those she grew up watching.
“We haven’t, I’m not really sure ever, had a striker that plays like her.” Megan Rapinoe said. “She comes back, gets on the ball, obviously very creative. More like kind of a false nine, so I’m looking forward to getting to know her game and for us to have a different aspect of us,”
Her performance on Friday showcased her ability to create and finish, as well as dictate the tempo at times. It is worth a mention that the Colombian opponents were completely outmatched, but the 21-year-old was more often than not the one bringing the ball into the box and looked comfortable calling the shots to her World Cup-winning teammates.
One thing that stood out apart from the goal, was her interplay with Rose Lavelle.
In the opening sequence of the game, Macario should have been credited with an assist when she teed Lavelle up just 15 seconds in, with time, for a powerful shot but it was misfired by inches. That would ultimately be a common theme for Lavelle in the evening, perhaps needing to knock a little rust off with her finishing, but on another night it could have been a multi-goal performance and Macario was the one feeding her the opportunities, and vice versa.
“We really like playing together,” Macario said.
“I think the coaches know our characteristics and so they didn’t necessarily have to say anything out of the norm, like, ‘Oh, you guys play with each other’, it was more just a natural thing to happen,”
I know that she played me a few good balls, great balls, but my finishing wasn’t that well today. I hope that I can repay her the next time.”
As far as the coach goes, scoring in your debut start will always keep you in their good graces, but there is no denying that Vlatko Andonovski’s embarrassment of riches has a new face that demands minutes in Macario, and it presents something to think about.
With stars like 35-year-old Rapinoe scoring a brace on Friday, and 38-year-old Carli Lloyd registering a goal and two assists on the week, younger but experienced talent like Samantha Mewis, who scored a hat-trick on Monday, you get the sense that it doesn’t matter who Andonovski throws out there, the Americans are on another level, even if the direction is not clear at the moment.
“I would rather be on this side of the spectrum than the other side,” Andonovski said. “It’s one of those, where I hate but I love it,”
Led by Macario, whose overnight stardom is not accompanied with professional game on the club side yet, the third age generation in the USWNT presents a path for Andonovski to comfortably take the team in a younger direction in the very near future.
“I came here because the U.S. is the land of opportunity and so it was just a dream that a little girl had, when I was 10 or so,” Macario said of her debut start. “I have a lot of aspirations, but I definitely say that two of them are realized today. I don’t have the words to describe how how wonderful this moment was but yeah, I’m definitely living the American dream.”