October 9, 2020 was an unforgettable day for Catarina Macario.
Two of the Brazilian-born forward’s longtime dreams came true that day. First, she was called into the U.S. Women’s National Team for its camp in Commerce City, Colorado this week. Second, she was officially sworn in as a citizen of the United States, thus clearing a massive hurdle on her path to American soccer stardom.
Macario came to the United States with her father and brother at the age of 12 specifically to pursue a potential pro soccer career. She grew up in Brasilia playing on boys teams, but her development stopped when she turned 12 and was barred from playing with the boys. Knowing Macario’s talent, her father took a chance and moved to the United States, where she would receive the coaching and acceptance she needed to make the most of her potential.
Macario, her father, and her brother settled in San Diego while her mother stayed in Brazil to help support the family financially. Macario wasted no time establishing herself as one of the best youth players the country had ever seen. She played in the high-level Elite Clubs National League for five years and scored more goals than anyone ever had in the league, despite missing time with an ACL injury.
That success earned her a scholarship to Stanford, where she was a goal scoring machine over three years. She scored 63 goals in 68 games, tallied 47 assists and won each of the last two women’s Mac Herrmann Trophies as the best player in the NCAA. She will almost certainly be the first pick in next spring’s NWSL Draft.
"Anyone who has seen Catarina play in college can tell she's a special talent," USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski said after releasing the training camp roster. "She has an ability to create chances and score goals that anyone would welcome on a team."
Macario has played with the U.S. Women’s Under-23 team and she made herself at home playing against NWSL competition. In 2018 and 2019 she played with them in the Portland Thorns Spring Invitational Tournaments, including a game against Andonovki’s Seattle Reign where she scored the winning goal for the U-23s on a penalty.
The Macedonian-born Andonovski is not only familiar with Macario’s skill on the pitch, but also the effort and determination she displayed during her quest to attain U.S. citizenship. Andonovski went through the process himself after coming to the U.S. to play indoor soccer in Kansas in 2000.
“I’m very excited about her personally, and I know that this means a lot because she has put a lot of effort individually” he said.
“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.”
Macario isn’t quite eligible to play for the USWNT. Earning her citizenship was only the next big step. She still needs a waiver from FIFA to bypass a residency requirement for naturalized citizens. Thankfully, a recent change to FIFA statutes should make that nothing more than a formality. FIFA now grants eligibility to any naturalized citizen that has lived in the country for five years if they arrived between the ages of 10 and 18. U.S. Soccer can request Macario’s full eligibility when she receives her U.S. Passport, which will happen shortly.
Previously, Macario would have had to wait until she turned 23 to represent the United States.
Andonovski is confident that U.S. Soccer will be able to pull off that request and get Macario fully integrated into the USWNT. In the meantime, she can take the opportunity she earned and turn some heads at this month’s training camp. Macario has experienced a unique American journey, and the same hard work and determination that has led her this far will eventually lead to her scoring big goals in big games for the nation she now calls her own.