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Why it’s time for Catarina Macario to join the NWSL

Catarina Macario won a UEFA Women’s Champions League title with Olympique Lyon last year before tearing her ACL. (ANP via Getty Images)

After U.S. women’s national team forward Catarina Macario injured her ACL in June 2022, the common consensus was that she would recover fully in time for the 2023 World Cup, and that if she could compete physically, she’d be on the plane to New Zealand. Macario is a unique talent U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski had begun to build the team’s young attacking core around, before suddenly having to adjust to her absence.

As the weeks before the tournament continue to tick away, however, Macario has yet to return to the field for either the USWNT or her club team, Olympique Lyon. With the World Cup far from a foregone conclusion, the question of whether she’ll be ready to play in July has only grown.

Since graduating from Stanford in 2021, Macario has played in Europe with a great amount of success. But now that she is delayed in her ACL recovery, and trying to make the biggest roster of her still-young career, the scales may have finally tipped in the NWSL’s favor.

The World Cup is worth adjusting for

Macario opted not to enter the NWSL draft in 2021, instead taking her talents to Lyon, one of the giants of European women’s football. The reasons for her decision at the time were all sound: European clubs don’t adhere to a salary cap, meaning they could offer far more in salary to a young player on the rise. It also gave her a chance to control her own destiny based on demand for her skill, something the NWSL’s parity rules threatened to take away from the college superstar.

Macario might have longer-term plans in Europe after a successful run with Olympique Lyon, winning both Division 1 Féminine and the UEFA Women’s Champions League in 2022. But the NWSL’s greatest pull in the build-up to the 2023 World Cup is that they are playing league games right now.

Lyon lost their recent Champions League match against Chelsea, limiting the number of games the team has left before moving into the summer offseason. With four games remaining, there isn’t much need for Lyon to rotate Macario in even if she does prove ready for game time before the first week of June. The forward is also currently out of contract with Lyon, which might affect their desire to make sure she is building momentum for the next season.

With her future in Lyon far from certain, a sign-and-loan deal might not be on the table. Alternatively, getting a contract signed quickly in the NWSL could be the difference in getting considerable club minutes.

Andonovski has made it very clear he expects Macario to get playing time in a competitive environment before he’ll consider her for a World Cup spot, a philosophy that Alex Morgan confirmed on this week’s episode of Snacks.

“Vlatko has said something which no coach has ever really come out and said, which is, your club really dictates, right now, if you’re going to make this [USWNT] team,” Morgan told co-hosts Lynn Williams and Sam Mewis. “He’s going to games every weekend, looking at players. I feel like that’s the first time that we’ve had a coach come out and just be like, ‘Yeah, your club play is important, and that’s what’s going to make or break a spot for you.’”

Andonovski has brought players back into camp after long absences so he can either monitor them or get them playing time, but those returns were under club conditions that Macario has yet to achieve. For Macario, giving up a few long-term goals to ensure a smooth transition into competitive games might be worth it if it guarantees a World Cup spot.

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Macario has scored eight goals in 17 appearances for the USWNT since 2021. (Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

What an NWSL entry might look like

Macario’s current situation has been drawn up in contrast to that of USWNT midfielder Julie Ertz, who returned to USWNT camp in April after a multi-year absence. Unlike Macario, Ertz was physically able to play in both of the U.S.’s April friendlies against Ireland, but she hadn’t suited up in an NWSL game in almost two years.

By next week, Ertz will be back in the swing of club play, having signed a one-year deal with Angel City FC in anticipation of joining the USWNT midfield in New Zealand. Ertz has the opportunity to play in up to 12 club matches before internationals leave for camp.

Ertz’s approach could be one that Macario follows, though their avenues to entry might be slightly different. A number of teams would be more than willing to give Macario a one-year contract, but the 23-year-old would have to enter through discovery rather than as a free agent like Ertz. Whether Macario’s rights are already held by a team is unclear, but again the NWSL’s parity rules complicate the young star’s path toward playing time.

“I have been talking to Vlatko, obviously, about the whole situation,” Macario said on CBS Sports last week. “Specifically because my season in Lyon [ends soon] and I’m hoping obviously to play as soon as I can. But, like I said, sometimes with injuries, you just have to be patient, you need to have time and just hope everything heals well.”

One obvious solution would be for Macario to re-sign with Lyon and then immediately complete a short-term loan to OL Reign. OL Groupe, however, is currently looking to divest from their ownership of the Seattle NWSL club, likely dashing any further collaboration between the European side and their North American counterpart.

Another, more permanent option would be for Macario to figure out an entry into the NWSL as a contracted player and sign with a team closer to home. Macario grew up in the San Diego area, and might still be able to find a long-term destination depending on salary cap space and current personnel.

So much of Macario’s future will ultimately depend on when she is physically ready to return to the field. But making the World Cup roster has to be the entire story, not just a subplot. For NWSL fans, it might mean a long-awaited debut.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

New Washington Spirit Head Coach Jonatan Giráldez Arrives in DC

head coach Jonatan Giráldez
Jonatan Giráldez joins the NWSL from FC Barcelona Femení. (Ramsey Cardy/UEFA via Getty Images)

Five months after announcing that the Washington Spirit had hired Barcelona Femení coach Jonatan Giráldez as the team's new head coach, Giráldez has joined the club in Washington, DC.

Giráldez is coming off of a successful season with the Spanish side, having won UEFA Women's Champions League, Copa de la Reina, Supercopa, and Liga F in his final season to complete a lauded Quadruple.

While Giráldez was finishing out his tenure in Europe, Adrián González filled in as Spirit interim head coach. González has also seen success, leading the team to its third-place standing with a 9-3-1 record through 13 games.

“I’m thrilled to join the Spirit and begin this next chapter with the club,” Giráldez said in an official team statement. “To be part of the vision Michele Kang has for the Spirit and women’s soccer globally is an exciting opportunity.”

Giráldez has worked at Barcelona since 2019, initially coming on as an assistant coach before moving up to head coach in 2021. The team went 30-0-0 on the season under Giráldez during his first year as manager.

He brings along with him Andrés González and Toni Gordo, who will serve as the Spirit's Fitness Coach and Club Analyst, respectively.

US Track & Field Olympic Trials Touch Down in Oregon

Sha’Carri Richardson competes in the women’s 200-meter preliminary round during the USATF Outdoor Championships
Sha’Carri Richardson will have some competition this week as athletes vie for an Olympic berth. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Track & Field Trials begin on June 21st, kicking off a 10-day quest to determine who will represent the US in Paris this summer.

The crucial meet will take place in Eugene, Oregon, where the top three finishers in each event will punch their ticket to the 2024 Olympics. As with this past week's US Swimming Trials, even the most decorated athletes must work to earn their spot — and one bad performance could undermine four years of preparation.

Reigning 100-meter World Champion Sha'Carri Richardson headlines this year's field, as the 24-year-old looks to qualify for her second Olympic Games and compete in her first. Richardson is a world champion in both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint, but missed the Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for THC shortly after the last US Olympic Trials.

Other standouts include 400-meter Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who's currently the most decorated athlete in the active women's US Track & Field pool. McLaughlin-Levrone qualified to run in the 200-meter and 400-meter flat races alongside the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic Trials, but opted to focus solely on her signature event.

800-meter specialist Athing Mu will also be a huge draw this week, as the Olympic gold medalist looks to shake off a lingering hamstring injury while pursuing her second Summer Games. Gold medal-winning pole vaulter Katie Moon will also attempt to qualify for her second-straight Olympic Games.

Ole Miss star McKenzie Long could be Richardson's greatest competition in the 100-meter and 200-meter events, as well as Richardson's Worlds teammate Gabby Thomas in the 200-meter. In field events, watch for Oregon senior Jaida Ross going head-to-head with reigning world champion Chase Jackson in the shot put, as both push for their first Olympic team berth.

Regardless of why you tune in, the US Olympic Trials are a perpetually thrilling and sometimes brutal qualification process. If you're able to make your way to the head of the pack, a shot at Olympic glory might just be waiting at the finish line.

Fans can catch live coverage throughout the Trials via NBC, USA, and Peacock.

Top Teams Square Off in NWSL Weekend Slate

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda
Orlando Pride, led by forward Barbra Banda, will take on Utah in this weekend's NWSL action. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As the NWSL season continues, a few top-performing clubs will have a chance to boost their standings this weekend.

First-place Kansas City will travel to Providence Park to take on fifth-place Portland, as the Current look to keep their unbeaten streak intact. And in New Jersey, third-place Washington will take on fourth-place Gotham FC, with both teams attempting to extend multi-game unbeaten streaks.

A six-point gap has opened between the fifth and sixth spot on the NWSL table — with just six points also separating the league's top five. Kansas City, Orlando, Washington, Gotham, and Portland have recently proven themselves to be a cut above the rest of the competition. With eight postseason spots up for grabs and half the season behind us, a pattern is forming that indicates the playoff race could come down to spots six through eight on the NWSL table.

Of those top five teams, only Orlando faces an opponent in the bottom half of the league this weekend: The Pride will take on 14th-place Utah, who nonetheless are coming off a win — just their second of the season — over Bay FC last weekend.

But despite Kansas City and Orlando having yet to lose a game, Gotham might be the squad coming into the weekend with the most momentum.

Clutch goals from Rose Lavelle and rookie Maycee Bell gave the Bats a 2-0 midweek win over San Diego on Wednesday, in a rematch of the 2024 Challenge Cup. Gotham's unbeaten streak dates all the way back to April, as rising availability and sharpened form have honed this year's superteam into a contender.

Bottom line? As the NWSL season passes the halfway mark, some matches might begin to feel more like playoff previews than mere regular season battles.

Chelsea Gray Returns From Injury in Aces Win Over Seattle

las vegas aces chelsea gray and kelsey plum celebrate a win over the seattle storm
Gray has been sidelined with a foot injury since the 2023 WNBA Finals. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray made her return to the basketball court on Wednesday, helping the Aces to a 94-83 win over the Seattle Storm. 

The lauded point guard missed the first 12 games of the season, having been injured in last year’s WNBA Finals. The left foot injury caused her to miss Game 4 of the championship series, and she’s continued to rehab it through the beginning of the 2024 season. 

Her return on Wednesday was capitalized by the fact that she needed just 20 seconds to make an impact and record her first assist. While she finished with just one point, she had seven assists, four rebounds, and two blocks to go alongside it in 15:30 minutes. Gray's contributions on the night brought her career assist record up to 1,500.

"I probably went through every emotion leading up to today," Gray said after the game. "I was a little anxious all day. It's been a long time since I've been out on that court. But the fans were amazing from the time I came out to warm up to the time I checked in the game. It was a rush and a feeling I missed a lot."

It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far for Las Vegas, who have lost five of their last seven games. Gray, who averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in 2023, has proven herself a much-needed addition to the team’s lineup.

"Felt like my heart," Aces coach Becky Hammon said when asked how she felt hearing the crowd erupt for Gray's return. "She's the leader of our team. I thought she did a wonderful job too."

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