The first leg of the UEFA Women’s Champions League quarter finals featured a number of strong performances from U.S. players, including Catarina Macario and Lindsey Horan. 

Horan had an assist in the game-winning goal for Lyon, securing the team’s 2-1 comeback over Benfica. 

In her first Champions League game since the 2022 final, in which she tore her ACL while playing for Lyon, Macario notched an assist as a late-game sub in Chelsea’s 3-1 over Ajax. She’s now had three goal contributions in four appearances in her return to the field. 

All three of her contributions have come within 10 minutes of being subbed onto the field. 

“She’s gifted,” Chelsea manager Emma Hayes said after the match. But the team is still working her back to full minutes. 

“Cat, we’re building, building, building,” Hayes added. “With the way we build players, it’s not just 20 minutes, 30, 45, 60, 90,” she said. “Sometimes it’s 20 at a certain level, and 20 again, but it’s a higher intensity. And Arsenal, for me, even 20 minutes was a much higher intensity. I think tonight was of equal level purely because [it’s] the Champions League and the energy of the crowd, but you saw the quality of the cross.”

Even still, it might not be long before Macario is back to being in a starting lineup. 

“Cat is someone who is not 100 per cent yet, but she’s not far away from starting a game,” Hayes said. “People just think, ‘Oh, she’s over that injury,’ but then you start training and then your muscles are having to adapt, and you might get a little tightness in your hamstring and in your groin, and you might have to take the loading off again, and then you have to develop a resilience and a robustness in your body.”

Macario appears to have a sense of humor about it. Hayes is set to take over as the USWNT manager, and Macario is one of many looking to be considered for an Olympic spot this summer. Ahead of the match, Hayes said that Macario had added herself to a form for Olympic roster consideration, noting that she’d written, “Now all you have to do is pick me!”

For Hayes, the thinking is more on the future that Macario could have as a player. 

“I want to build Cat for the long term,” Hayes said. “That’s my most important thing for her. She deserves to have a career at the top level.”