Catarina Macario strikes the ball during a training session in Japan this summer. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Less than a year after making her debut with the U.S. women’s national team, Catarina Macario is becoming a prominent player in the eyes of Vlatko Andonovski.

The coach named Macario as an alternate on the Olympic roster this summer in Tokyo. The 22-year-old didn’t see the starting lineup as the USWNT rebounded from a disappointing start to win bronze. Two months and a couple of camps later, however, Andonovski says Macario could become the face of the squad.

“It’s no secret Cat is one of the players who has tremendous potential,” Andonovski said. “I personally think she is one of the players I call the future of this team.”

The coach has been playing her primarily in the midfield, where her movement with the ball and runs without the ball have recently been on display.

Macario also excels at scoring goals, but she hasn’t yet had the opportunity to prove what she’s capable of with the national team. After tallying seven goals in her last seven games with her club, Lyon, as well as 63 goals in 69 matches through her three-year college career with the Stanford Cardinal, Macario has a strong case to start at forward for the USWNT and, more specifically, at the nine.

The 4-3-3 formation Andonovski typically employs also leaves more room for Macario to earn a starting spot if she can establish herself as a forward. As a first-year player, it’s difficult to compete with the likes of Julie Ertz and Rose Lavelle in the midfield. But with Carli Lloyd retiring after the USWNT’s next two friendlies against Korea Republic, a spot will be left open on the starting forward line.

Considering Andonovski’s high praise of Macario’s performance in the midfield, she seems headed toward success regardless of position.

“She’s a very creative player in the role she has with the national team,” the coach said. “It’s just been growth from game to game.”

Macario has three goals in 10 appearances with the U.S. With Lyon, she’s recorded 13 goals in 21 games.

That she is already making a name for herself in her first year as a professional and senior national team player isn’t anything new for the Brazilian-born striker. At Stanford, Macario racked up 17 goals and 16 assists in 25 matches her freshman year, earning her many awards such as espnW Player of the Year, TopDrawerSoccer.com Freshman of the Year, Pac-12 Forward of the Year and Pac-12 Freshman of the Year.

In her third and final college season, Macario buried 23 goals in just 19 matches.

Macario, a two-time Hermann Trophy winner as college soccer’s best player, decided to forgo her senior season to begin her professional journey. On Jan. 12, she signed with Lyon for two and a half years.

January turned out to be quite a month for Macario, 21 years old at the time. The day after her contract with Lyon was made public, U.S. Soccer announced she had received clearance from FIFA to play for the U.S. as a dual citizen.

Four days later, on Jan. 18, Macario made her debut for the national team against Colombia. In her next game on Jan. 22, also against Colombia, she made her first start and scored her first international goal. She followed that up with inclusion on the USWNT’s 2021 SheBelieves Cup and Olympic rosters and a highlight-reel goal in a U.S. friendly last month.

“I still feel relatively new to this team,” Macario said in September. “But I do know some of [the players] a little bit better now, so I hope that we learn more about each other on and off the field and build confidence in playing with each other.”

Macario will have another chance to realize her potential when the USWNT plays South Korea on Thursday night in Kansas City and again on Tuesday in St. Paul, Minn.

“I’m very happy with where she’s at at this stage in her career,” Andonovski said. “I’m always excited to have her in camp.”

Jessa Braun is an editorial intern for Just Women’s Sports. She is also the Head of North American Content for the Women’s Sports Alliance. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.