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Macario poised for breakout in second year with US

February 24, 2022 GMT
U.S. forward Catarina Macario (20) and midfielder Ashley Sanchez (13) celebrate Macario's goal during the first half against Iceland in a SheBelieves Cup soccer match Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022 in Frisco, Texas. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)
U.S. forward Catarina Macario (20) and midfielder Ashley Sanchez (13) celebrate Macario's goal during the first half against Iceland in a SheBelieves Cup soccer match Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022 in Frisco, Texas. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)
U.S. forward Catarina Macario (20) and midfielder Ashley Sanchez (13) celebrate Macario's goal during the first half against Iceland in a SheBelieves Cup soccer match Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022 in Frisco, Texas. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)
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U.S. forward Catarina Macario (20) and midfielder Ashley Sanchez (13) celebrate Macario's goal during the first half against Iceland in a SheBelieves Cup soccer match Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022 in Frisco, Texas. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)
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U.S. forward Catarina Macario (20) and midfielder Ashley Sanchez (13) celebrate Macario's goal during the first half against Iceland in a SheBelieves Cup soccer match Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022 in Frisco, Texas. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)

Catarina Macario is looking to make more of an impact in her sophomore year with the U.S. national team.

So far, she’s off to a fine start.

Macario started all three games of the team’s SheBelieves Cup tournament at center forward, scoring a pair of goals in the final match against Iceland on Wednesday for the tournament title. She was named the SheBelieves MVP.

“We saw in the three games, from game one to game three, how Cat grew,” U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “But mostly, we saw how the team grew around Cat, and understanding her movements, understanding her positioning, the angles, the balls that she’s playing. That’s where we grew the most.”

Going into the tournament, that growth was the 22-year-old’s top goal.

“I’ve had my rookie year essentially, I’ve had my time for mistakes, and by no means is it over but I do feel like it’s been a great year of just learning new things, having more experience,” Macario said. “So I just hope that I can come in and implement that into my game now with the national team.”

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Macario is coming off a year during which she also embarked on a professional career with French club Lyon. She’s played in 13 games this season for Lyon, with 11 starts and a team-leading nine goals. She said she’s fallen in love with the game playing in France.

“Biggest thing I have learned from Lyon has been I think just the speed of play, the intelligence of having more awareness of the opponent and my teammates,” she said. “And also I have really enjoyed just coming back to the fundamentals.”

Born in Brazil, Macario grew up in San Diego. She was a two-time winner of the MAC Hermann Trophy as the nation’s best college player while at Stanford. She had a single-season record of 32 goals and 23 assists in her final season with the Cardinal before leaving school early to turn pro.

Macario became a U.S. citizen the same day Andonovski called her up to her first camp in October 2020. After she got FIFA clearance to play for the United States in early 2021, she made her national team debut against Colombia.

Now she has five goals and two assists in 15 matches and she’s become a central figure in the national team’s youth movement. Andonovski purposely left several of the team’s high-profile veterans off the roster for the SheBelieves Cup, including Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath and Christen Press.

The idea, Andonovski said, was to develop team chemistry and prepare the younger players for a busy year with World Cup qualifying in July. He wanted to strengthen relationships between newer players like Macario and their more experienced but still-young counterparts, like Rose Lavelle and Mallory Pugh.

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“I think I’ve gotten more comfortable, at least throughout the year, in just having that pressure and being able to trust myself and put in the work. After all, things aren’t going to happen unless you put in the work, unless you have confidence in yourself,” Macario said. “And that’s what I’m really just looking forward to in 2022. I’m ready to go after it, I’m ready to attack. Just every single day, make it count.”

Macario is also more comfortable in using her voice beyond the pitch.

At Wednesday’s match in Frisco, Texas, against Iceland, she was among the players who wrote “Protect Trans Kids” on their wristband tape. The statement came after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the state’s child welfare agency to investigate reports of gender-confirming care for kids as “child abuse.” Opponents say the directive by the two-term Republican is a first by any governor over GOP efforts to restrict transgender rights.

Following her goals, Macario made sure to raise her arms and display the message.

“With the platform that we have, we just really wanted to showcase why the team is so different and why we do things that are much bigger than just the game,” she said. “So that was kind of a way just to show awareness.”

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