Not a moment too soon.
If you’re a fan of the back-to-back World Cup Champion United States Women’s National Soccer Team, you’ve likely heard all the big names.
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But a name you might not know is that of budding superstar Catarina Macario, who just made her international debut for the USWNT last week.
For those of us who follow the sport, we’ve waited for this moment with baited breath. The coming of Macario is similar in seismic impact to the once-upon-a-time coming of a young LeBron.
She is a thunderclap in human form, and if all goes to plan, she’ll be the force that propels the US women’s team for the next decade or more.
Born in Brazil, Macario emigrated to America when she was 12 and already a soccer sensation. She eventually landed at Stanford, where she won the Mac Hermann award for the best player in the college ranks not once, but twice. She was also a three time All-American, carried a 3.79 GPA at Stanford, led the college ranks in both goals and assists last year and was never, ever sick at sea.
Brazil put up a fight, hoping to woo her back to the land of her birth, but for Macario, playing for the US was a lifelong dream. Much of the credit goes to her idol, Mia Hamm, who helped pave the way for a generation of young soccer players to see someone who looked like them succeed at the highest levels.
Due to a number of FIFA regulations, Macario’s eligibility was held up for a bit, and die hard fans held our collective breaths. But in the last month, Macario became an American citizen, was approved to play for the USWNT and signed a huge contract with the professional women’s powerhouse club team Olympic Lyonnaise.
It’s an embarrassment of riches in Lyon, where Macario will team up with global superstars and household names Ada Hegerberg, Wendie Renard, Amandine Henry, Eugénie Le Sommer, Sarah Bouhaddi and Dzsenifer Marozsán.
I don’t know how anyone is going to match up to a professional side like that.
It’s been a whirlwind for Macario, but she handles it all with a bright smile and a tremendous amount of grace.
Truly, watching her make her debut against Colombia, you’d expect to see some nerves or some first game jitters.
There was none of that.
Macario entered the game in the second half, taking the place of Megan Rapinoe at left wing, despite the fact that she’s made all her impact as a midfielder, and proceeded to immediately look the part.
She didn’t score, but some of her runs were downright predatory and she was seeking, more than once, to uncork her powerful shot, but the opportunity was elusive.
Still, a promising showing and the announcers noted that when she got on the field, the whole team seemed to pick up and hot dog it a little.
It remains to be seen where US coach Vlatko Andonofski decides to use her. The US midfield is deep and full of world-class talent, not the least of which is Julie Ertz at Macario’s traditional position of center midfielder, where she won the 2019 player of the year award. Ertz is a mainstay and not likely to vanish anytime soon. Elswehere on the midfielder depth chart are 2020 player of the year Samantha Mewis, Houston Dash MVP and fan-favorite Kristie Mewis, tiny phenom Rose Lavelle, fellow Mac Hermann winner and former Stanford teammate Andi Sullivan and rookie Jaelin Howell.
So where, oh where, do you put Macario?
Especially when you have to trim the 23-player World Cup roster down to 18 players for the Olympics. (Which feels a little nuts, frankly.)
Might there be a scenario where we see 39-year-old center forward Carli Lloyd decide to hang ’em up? Might there also be a scenario where global sensation Alex Morgan, who just had her first child last year, decides to take her foot off the gas and add another member to her growing family? If that were the case, would Andonovski bump the lethal Macario up to the front, with players like Press, Heath and Megan Rapinoe feeding her crosses?
It’s all just speculation at this point. But Ertz is only 28 and still has a ways to go on the national team. Not to mention that she has an alpha personality that probably isn’t going to just move aside for the 21-year-old wunderkind.
We did, however, get a glimpse into Andonofski’s possible plans when, in a friendly rematch with Colombia three days after the first game, he started Macario in the heralded 9 spot – striker, where Lloyd and Morgan and Press often play. It took her less than three minutes of international play in her very first start to find the twine.
Hot Damn! That’s some power right there. Yikes.
No matter which way it goes, or where in the lineup she ultimately lands, it’s going to be a blast to watch. It just remains to be seen whether or not we’ll start to sing the name Cat Macario the way we sing about generational women athletes like Sonja Henie, Serena Williams, Wu Minxia, Lisa Leslie and Simone Biles.
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