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USWNT's Next Big Thing? Catarina Macario's Path to Eligibility Clears

The dynamic Stanford attacking star is now a U.S. citizen, bringing her one giant step closer to securing eligibility needed to play for the USWNT.

Thursday wound up being a monumental day for Stanford women's soccer star Catarina Macario in more ways than one.

Hours after her first call-up to a senior U.S. women's national team camp, the Brazil-born attacking dynamo revealed word that one of the biggest hurdles to making her eligible to play in official competitions for the U.S. had been cleared: She's now a U.S. citizen.

Macario, who came to the U.S. in 2012 with her family and has gone on to be a prolific part of Stanford's national championship teams, is now one giant step closer to bringing her attacking talents to the international stage with the four-time World Cup champions.

Macario still requires permission from FIFA that would allow her to represent the U.S. In the past, she would have needed a waiver to bypass its residency requirement rules for naturalized citizens, which stated that a given player must live in a country for five continuous years after turning 18 to secure eligibility. Those statutes have recently changed, however, to state that it's just five years after arriving in the country, period, for someone who came in between the ages of 10 and 18 like Macario. 

That's a significant alteration that works in the U.S.'s favor, as under the previous rules, if she were unable to obtain a waiver, then she wouldn't have been eligible to play for the U.S. until she turns 23. That's not until October 2022. Given that she's never played for Brazil on any level, she does not need to file for a one-time switch of international allegiance, either. Securing approval is not a given, as U.S. Soccer must formally submit a request to FIFA, show that Macario did not come to the U.S. solely for the purpose of participating for the national team and have that request be granted. There's optimism it will be, though.

"The next step is a passport, which she applied for and will get soon, and then we've got to get permission from FIFA so she can obtain her eligibility," U.S. manager Vlatko Andonovski told reporters Friday. "I'm pretty confident in our federation and (managing director of administration) Tom King. He has been through this and done it before."

As it relates to the 2021 Olympics and Macario's potentially being part of the team, Andonovski mentioned that, "I think she will be ready before Tokyo."

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That's a potentially significant wrinkle to the U.S.'s plans, with only 18 players making Olympic rosters and an abundance of established and veteran attacking stars vying for those spots.

In the meantime, she is arguably the most notable part of the USWNT's first training camp roster in seven months. It's a squad devoid of a number of 2019 world champions, with five currently playing for clubs overseas and others missing out due to various reasons. Macario is one of four collegiate players headed to Colorado for the 11-day camp, which is otherwise composed entirely of NWSL-based players.

Macario has brief experience in a U.S. jersey, playing with the U-23s in a pair of preseason Thorns Spring Invitational tournaments. In 2018 she scored all four of the U-23s' goals against NWSL competition, and in 2019 she played against Andonovski's Seattle Reign and also scored the winner on a penalty against the host Portland Thorns. The 2020 edition was canceled due to the pandemic.

"Anyone who has seen Catarina play in college can tell she's a special talent," Andonovski said, praising her skill, creativity and flair. "She has an ability to create chances and score goals that anyone would welcome on a team."

What Macario has accomplished on the collegiate playing field is astounding. In 68 career games at Stanford, she has scored 63 goals and assisted on 47 others, winning the last two Hermann Trophy awards as the best player in the nation. Her former Cardinal teammate, Sophia Smith, was the first pick in the 2020 NWSL draft, and there's little doubt that should she follow suit and join NWSL, she would wind up in the same position.

Andonovski warned about extrapolating what she's done in college to elite international competition ("It takes a little bit more to be a special player at that level," he said), but there's no denying the tantalizing possibilities she could bring to a team that features world-class attacking capability but is aging on the front line. Alex Morgan (31), Christen Press (31), Tobin Heath (32), Megan Rapinoe (35) and Carli Lloyd (38) won't be playing forever.

"We're very happy and excited for her to start a new chapter in her life and her career," said Andonovski, who went through the citizen process himself and became an American in 2015 after coming to the U.S. from Macedonia. "I know it is stressful at times, but it is very fulfilling when you obtain the papers. 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.' The moment you get the papers is when you feel like you've been accepted."