Head Coach Vlatko Andonovski of the U.S. National Team instructs his team in the second half against Sweden on Nov. 7, 2019 in Columbus, Ohio.
When the U.S. women’s soccer team convenes on Oct. 18 for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country hard in March, many of the squad’s high-profile players won’t be in camp.
Among the missing from the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup championship side will be Megan Rapinoe, who has injury concerns, and Alex Morgan, Rose Lavelle, Tobin Heath, Christen Press and Sam Mewis, who are playing in England. Other World Cup veterans not attending for various reasons include forward Carli Lloyd, Adrianna Franch and Mallory Pugh and Julie Ertz.
But let’s face it. Coach Vlatko Andonovski has a pretty good idea of what those players can do. This month he wants to see what the next generation of players can bring to the table.
So when the 11-day camp opens in Commerce City, Colorado, many eyes will be on midfielder Catarina Macario.
A skillful two-time MAC Hermann Trophy winner as the nation’s best college player, she has wowed fans with her lethal goal-scoring abilities and creative skills. While spearheading Stanford University to a pair of NCAA Division I women’s championships, Macario recorded an astounding 63 goals and 47 assists in 68 matches. (Stanford and Macario aren’t competing this fall due to the pandemic.) Many soccer observers have felt that Macario has the potential to be a game-breaker for the USWNT.
Thursday turned out to be a red-letter day in the 21-year-old’s life. Not only was she named to the 27-player camp, Macario also earned her U.S. citizenship.
“I have to say we’re very happy and excited for her to take a huge step and a new chapter in her life first and foremost and in her career,” Andonovski said during a media conference call on Friday.
Not surprisingly, Macario was elated as well.
“There is still a ways to go to play for the USA but I am filled with love and eternal gratitude for my family, my teammates, my coaches and trainers and so many others who have been part of my journey,” Macario, who was born in São Luís, Brazil, said on Twitter Thursday.
Andonovski hoped Macario’s next phase in her journey has just begun.
“Anyone who has seen Catarina play in college can tell she is a special talent,” he said. “She is incredibly skillful, can score in many different ways. It’s just fun to watch. She’s got a flair, she’s very creative and she’s got this ability to create chances and to score goals that anyone would welcome on a team. 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.”
Born in 1999, Macario emigrated to the U.S. in 2012 with her father and brother while her mother, a doctor, remained in Brazil to support the family. Macario lived and played youth soccer in San Diego.
Though she’s now a citizen, Macario will not be eligible to play for the U.S. until her paperwork is finished with FIFA. Andonovski said he was “pretty confident” that everything will be cleared before next summer’s Olympic Games Tokyo 2021. Macario has applied for a U.S. passport.
Besides Macario, three other college players were called in to the October camp: forward Mia Fishel (UCLA), midfielder Jaelin Howell (Florida State) and defender Naomi Girma (Stanford).
Andonovski noted that all have played for U.S. youth national teams.
“I felt that this is a great opportunity to give them a little taste what it is like to be in this environment,” he said. “Hopefully, they can develop going forward.”
Five National Women’s Soccer League players also were rewarded for their outstanding performances during the 2020 Challenge Cup this summer and the Fall Series. Among them are Houston Dash midfielder Shea Groom, the Challenge Cup championship game MVP; teammate and midfielder Kristie Mewis, the older sister of Sam Mewis; and Portland Thorns forward Sophia Smith.
“These are players who stood out in most of the games and they were rewarded for their good performance,” Andonovski said.
Andonovski and his staff face a busy fall and winter. They also have their periscopes up to watch USWNT players compete in England’s Women’s Super League, with Heath and Press (Manchester United), Lavelle and Mewis (Manchester City) and Morgan (Tottenham Hotspur) all opting for overseas this fall.
The players are will be monitored with what Andonovski termed “five layers” — the gym, communication through the respective teams’ medical staffs, high-performance coaches, head coaches and performance analytics.
“So, we’re able to monitor everything what they do overseas,” he said. “I don’t see that being a problem anyone going over there.”
As for Rapinoe, who earned the Golden Ball and Golden Boot awards at the 2019 World Cup, don’t worry. There are plans for her to return to the team.
“We’re in constant communication with Pinoe,” Andonovski said. “We had a good talk. Megan said she didn’t feel now was the time to come back into the team.”
Andonovski agreed with his star.
“She is not going to be here and some of the more experienced players aren’t going to be here, but we’ll just use this opportunity to evaluate and to see some of the younger players and see how they fit into the environment,” he said.