The road to Catarina Macario’s first Champions League final with Lyon
Macario leads Lyon in Champions League goals with seven.
The Mirror of Erised, Albus Dumbledore told Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, reflects the “deepest, most desperate desires” of users’ hearts.
So when Amalia Villarreal, then 6 or 7, was assigned by her teacher to draw what her reflection would look like in the Mirror of Erised, she sketched herself in United States women’s national team soccer garb: blue socks, red shorts and blue jersey, with a gold medal slung around her neck.
Villarreal got to live out that dream last weekend, when the U.S. U-17 team defeated Mexico 2-1 in the 2022 Concacaf Championship. The forward tied for the team lead with eight goals during the seven-game tournament staged in the Dominican Republic, including a five-goal outburst in a 13-0 victory over Puerto Rico on April 25 that tied a USA record for the most goals scored in a single game at any age level.
She was driven by the image of herself she drew as a kid.
“Anytime (training) was hard, it was in the back of my mind to work for my younger self,” Villarreal said.
Villarreal, a product of Lansing, Mich., played an age group up for the tournament, like she has for much of her soccer life. When she first started playing competitively, for the boys’ indoor team her father coached, she was a year younger than most of her teammates and opponents.
No matter. Villarreal dominated anyway. Neither of her parents played soccer growing up — her father was a baseball and football player at Division III Olivet College (Mich.), and her mother played high school basketball — but she approached the game with an elevated competitive drive.
“They eventually banned her out of the indoor soccer league, because it was a boys’ league,” her father Mario said.
Or maybe it was because the boys could not keep up. Fueled by her national team dream, she continued to excel playing with girls.
When she was 9, she tried out for the local Michigan Jaguars club team and made an impression on coach Trisha Wellock when Wellock asked what position she played.
“What do you mean?” Villarreal replied.
“Don’t you play a position?” Wellock said.
“No,” Villarreal said. “I play where the ball goes, and I put it in the net.”
Our Jags fam came together tonight for a @USYNT watch party in support of @44AmaliaV! We enjoyed watching her score her 8th goal of the Concacaf Championships and helping her team to victory! Let's go, Amalia! 💚 pic.twitter.com/GVC5XYFzc2— Michigan Jaguars FC Academy (@JaguarsAcademy) May 5, 2022
Villarreal played for Wellock for three years, and led the team to the club national championship her U-13 season. Though the Jaguars fell, Villarreal won the “Golden Ball” award, given to the best player in the tournament — a rare recognition for a player on the losing team.
“There was no question who the player of the tournament was,” said Wellock, who hosted a watch party at the Jaguars’ facility for the U.S. U-17 USA team’s 5-0 win over Jamaica on May 4. Villarreal scored her eighth goal of the tournament that day. “It was easy to teach her. She was so talented, she could do things most players could not at her age.”
In addition to the Jaguars, Villarreal plays for Solar Soccer Club, a northeastern Texas program that regularly competes against some of the best teams in the country. Exposure with Solar helped Villarreal, who takes online courses via the Capital Area K-12 Online program through Sexton High School (Lansing, Mich.), make more of a name for herself on the national stage. She’s No. 6 in TopDrawerSoccer’s rankings for the Class of 2024.
Standing at 5-foot-2, Villarreal weaponizes her low center of gravity to exploit holes in opposing defenses, and that was apparent in the Concacaf tournament. She first found the back of the net in the 81st minute of the team’s opener, a 20-0 win over Grenada on April 23 that set a record for the most goals scored in a World Cup qualifying match for a U.S. women’s national team at any level. After receiving a long ball from teammate Nicola Fraser, Villarreal dribbled into the box and deposited a low shot into the right side of the net.
Two days later, 11 minutes into what would turn into the 13-0 romp of Puerto Rico, Villarreal scored again, this time on a right-footed shot across her body from 7 yards out. Her parents were in traffic and missed the goal, but they made it to Estadio Panamericano in San Cristóbal, Dominican Republic in time to see her score four more goals.
“Have I ever seen her score five goals in club soccer? Yeah,” Mario Villarreal said. “But it’s a lot different when you’re playing at this level.”
And it’s a lot different when you’re wearing the jersey you envisioned yourself in as a kid. Villarreal’s father keeps the drawing in a blue three-ring binder under his bed, and while his daughter was in Ft. Lauderdale for the U-17 camp ahead of Concacaf, he texted her a picture of it as a reminder of her journey. The next morning, Villarreal donned the USA jersey for the first time, as part of a team photoshoot.
“It felt surreal,” Villarreal said. “Also, when I put on the jersey to play in games, I remember the picture. This is what I’ve always wanted to be.”
Villarreal’s national team goals are far from complete. The U-17 gold medal was nice, but alongside the drawing she sketched as a kid, she dreamed bigger:
“What I will see in the mirror is me with the US national jersey on,” Villarreal wrote. “In the background will be the rest of the team and the stadium packed tight with fans cheering their hearts out since we just won the FIFA World Cup.”
Josh Needelman is the High School Sports Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow him on Twitter @JoshNeedelman.
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