Opinion: USWNT just got better, calling up Stanford phenom Catarina Macario on same day she became citizen

Anytime the rest of the world seems to be closing the gap, the U.S. women find a way to widen it again.

On the same day she was included on the roster for this month’s training camp, Catarina Macario announced Thursday night that she had been sworn in as a U.S. citizen. While there are still a few procedural steps left, the two-time NCAA champion and Hermann Trophy winner – think soccer’s version of the Heisman — is likely to be able to play for the reigning World Cup champs at next summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

“Anyone who has seen Catarina play in college can tell she’s a special talent,” U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski said Friday. “She’s incredibly skillful, can score in many different ways. She’s just fun to watch.

“She’s got a flair, she’s very creative,” he added. “She’s got the ability to create chances and to score goals that anyone would welcome on a team.”

Macario was born in Brazil, a country where soccer is as ingrained as football is in the United States. Its men’s team has won five World Cup titles, more than any other country, and from Pele to Ronaldo to Neymar, it has produced many of the greatest to ever play the game.

Catarina Macario became a U.S. citizen Thursday. (Photo: Jonathan Dyer, USA TODAY Sports)

But for decades, the country acted as if the women’s game did not exist. It was actually illegal for women to play in Brazil from 1941 to 1979, and only recently has the national federation begun to treat its women’s team with anything but indifference.

That’s why, when Macario was 12 and already showing signs of being a unique talent, her parents decided that she, her older brother and father would move to the United States. Her mother, a surgeon, would initially stay in Brazil to support the family financially.

“I immediately felt at home and that I belonged,” Macario said in an Instagram post Thursday night.

She quickly made a name for herself in the Southern California soccer community, and earned a scholarship to Stanford. There, she has led the Cardinal to national titles in 2017 and 2019, and last year led the country in both goals and assists.  

Though Brazil’s federation made overtures to her, Macario made it clear she intended to play for the U.S. women. A FIFA rules change earlier this year sped up the process, starting the clock on a five-year waiting period from when a player arrives in his or her new country, rather than on their 18th birthday.

Macario, who turned 21 earlier this month, has been in the United States for almost a decade. She still needs her U.S. passport – Andonovski said she’s already applied for it – and to have her request approved by FIFA’s Players Status Committee.

“Our federation has been through this” with other players, Andonovski said. “So I think that she will be ready for Tokyo.”

That’s a big advantage for the U.S. women, who will be looking to become the first reigning World Cup champions to win the Olympic title.

The Americans have long set the standard in the women’s game. They are four-time World Cup champions, and won the Olympic gold medal in 1996, 2004, 2008 and 2012. But the rest of the world is gaining ground, with federations devoting money and resources to their national teams and domestic leagues.

The results were evident at the World Cup in France, where the Americans had a tough game against up-and-coming Spain and faced the Netherlands, which was making only its second appearance in the tournament, in the final.

But adding a player like Macario can elevate the entire program, just as the arrivals of Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan once did.

While Andonovski is thrilled to have Macario in the fold, he mentioned several times how happy he is for her personally. Andonovski is originally from North Macedonia and became a U.S. citizen in 2015.

“It is very fulfilling when you obtain the papers,” he 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. You’re wanted to be part of this country.”

Wanted in this country, wanted on this team. 

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour. 

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