At 1:14 a.m. Friday morning, an earthquake struck American soccer.
Just a few hours after Catarina Macario was called into her first senior U.S. women’s national team training camp, the Brazil-born Stanford playmaker made even bigger news. She had acquired U.S. citizenship, starting her on the path to officially join the team she has long dreamed about.
The national team has been waiting to welcome her, too. Insiders and outsiders alike have rated her for years as one of the program’s elite prospects. But everyone had to wait for her to become a citizen.
“We’re very happy and excited for her — for her to start a new chapter in her life, first and foremost, and then in her career,” U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski said Friday afternoon.
Macario, 21, has lived in the United States since her family moved to San Diego in 2011. She was born in São Luís, Maranhão, a city on Brazil’s northern coast, and grew up in the nation’s capital Brasilia. She played the country’s national sport with as much flair as her male counterparts, but at age 12 was told she could no longer play on boys teams.
Knowing her potential, the family took a gamble. Catarina, her father and her brother went to California while her mother, a surgeon, stayed home to provide financial support. The language barrier and other issues made their new life difficult, but Catarina’s soccer skills shone through and caught the attention of college powerhouse Stanford. The school that produced Christen Press, Kelley O’Hara and Andi Sullivan wanted to make Macario its next star.
To say Macario took off is an understatement. With a skill set combining a playmaker’s touch and a striker’s finish, she racked up 63 goals and 47 assists in 68 games over three years. She won national championships in 2017 and 2019, and has won the last two MAC Hermann trophies — college soccer’s Heisman.
“Anyone who has seen Catarina play in college can tell that she’s a special talent,” Andonovski said. “She’s incredibly skillful, can score in many different ways, and is just fun to watch. She’s got a flair, she’s very creative, and she’s got the ability to create chances and score goals that anyone would welcome on a team.”
Macario has had plenty of big-time teammates. The 2017 squad featured Tierna Davidson, who won a World Cup two years later, plus Sullivan, Paris Saint-Germain’s Alana Cook, and the Washington Spirit’s Jordan DiBiasi and Tegan McGrady. Last year’s team had Sophia Smith, whom the Portland Thorns made this year’s No. 1 NWSL draft pick.
Davidson and Smith left college early, and Macario could have too. But she chose to stay to further her education. The NWSL would have to wait, and fans gave thanks that the league was stable enough to be able to.
While Macario was pursuing a degree, she was also pursuing U.S. citizenship. She got a green card six years ago, and was on track to become a citizen late this year or early next. The moment came this week, and fans erupted on Twitter as if they’d seen her score a goal.
“I’m very excited about her personally, and I know that this means a lot because she has put a lot of effort individually” into getting citizenship, said Andonovski, who’s also a naturalized immigrant. He was born in North Macedonia in 1976 and came to this country in 2000 to play indoor soccer for a pro team in Wichita, Kanasas.
“I know it is stressful at times, but it is very fulfilling,” Andonovski said. “The moment you apply for citizenship is the moment when you decide to say, ‘I want this to be my home, I want this to be my country, and I want to be American.’ The moment you get the papers is when you feel like you’ve been accepted, and you’re wanted to be part of this country.”
A key piece of the process is a change in FIFA’s rules for players who move countries. The governing body used to require five years of residence beyond a player’s 18th birthday, which would have kept Macario waiting until October of 2022. to be precise. Now the rule simply requires five years of residence, period, for players 18 or older.
Andonovski said Macario is in the process of getting a U.S. passport, and U.S. Soccer will soon ask FIFA to approve Macario’s eligibility. When that happens, she’ll immediately be in the race for a spot on next year’s Olympic team. And the notoriously small 18-player roster will become that much harder for everyone else to make.
“Hopefully, what she has demonstrated in the college game, she can demonstrate on the national team level, because we know it takes a little bit more to be a special player at that level,” he said.
A few minutes later, Andonovski said the words that U.S. fans have waited so long to hear: “I think that she will be ready for Tokyo.”
As with any marquee prospect, it’s sometimes necessary to slow down the hype train. But everyone who has watched Macario up close believes she’s the real deal. And you can be sure that the earthquake felt by American soccer fans had aftershocks in the Netherlands, France, England and Australia — the nations that have the best shots at dethroning the U.S. in the coming years.