Before the U.S. women’s national team’s scoreless draw with the Czech Republic in the SheBelieves Cup opener Thursday night, Catarina Macario told the media that her preferred position is the nine.
Macario is happy playing anywhere, but after some probing from broadcaster and former USWNT player Julie Foudy on the call, she admitted she feels she’s at her best when scoring goals. Finding the back of the net is something Macario has done everywhere she’s been — 63 goals in 69 appearances at Stanford, and nine in 13 appearances for her club team, Lyon, this season.
But in 12 caps with the USWNT, the 22-year-old has been labeled a midfielder.
Finally on Thursday, in front of Macario’s family and friends near her hometown of San Diego, the two-time MAC Hermann trophy winner was slotted into the starting lineup as a center forward. And, in the USWNT’s 2022 debut, she impressed the nation.
“I think that we’re going to see a little bit more of Cat in [the nine] position going forward,” Andonovski said after the game in Carson, Calif.
That’s a wrap on Match Day No. 1.#SheBelievesCup x @Visa pic.twitter.com/Gj0oldoLxu— U.S. Soccer WNT (@USWNT) February 18, 2022
That’s a wrap on Match Day No. 1.#SheBelievesCup x @Visa pic.twitter.com/Gj0oldoLxu
Playing up top against the Czech Republic’s low block was no easy task. Despite having 64 percent of the possession, the U.S. struggled throughout the game to find a way past the organized Czech defense.
“You need someone like Cat with her precision and technical abilities,” said Andonovski. “I thought that when we were able to find her underneath the line, she did an incredible job of unlocking them or creating opportunities for the players around her, so I was very happy with that.”
Macario proved very successful at dropping behind the front row of defenders and tapping one-touch balls into the runs of center midfielder Rose Lavelle.
“That’s pure creativity and technical ability, so I’m very happy to see that because I think she has the ability to do that,” Andonovski said. “The players around will have to get used to those passes or expect those passes so we can make plans to be more dangerous.”
The chemistry between Macario and Lavelle was one of the most impressive aspects of the first match, and something Andonovski was hoping to see coming into this tournament. He says Lavelle is “one of the better ones” when it comes to reading Macario’s movements. Their creativity enables them to play interchangeably and make nifty combinations with each other.
“She’s just a big magician, I feel like, with the ball,” Macario said of Lavelle. “She’s incredibly creative and you never know what she’s going to do.”
With four shots each, Macario and Lavelle tied for the most in the game, and Lavelle was later named Woman of the Match.
“I’m excited to see these players back on the field together because I think that they can do some damage once they start clicking,” Andonovski said.
😼 ➕ 🌹, knocking at the door.#SheBelievesCup x @Visa pic.twitter.com/SAaPEEnsH6— U.S. Soccer WNT (@USWNT) February 18, 2022
😼 ➕ 🌹, knocking at the door.#SheBelievesCup x @Visa pic.twitter.com/SAaPEEnsH6
With it being Macario’s first time in the nine, everyone else will need time to adjust to her inventive runs and passes. The team has had only a couple of training sessions to work with her in camp, since she arrived late due to a game with her club team.
Andonovski has referred to Macario as “the future of the team,” so it’s no surprise that he’s started to build the team around her.
For example, her presence influences which wingers the coach puts on the field. In the starting lineup on Thursday were Sophia Smith and Mallory Pugh, and coming on in the 61st minute were Trinity Rodman and Midge Purce.
“We want wingers that have abilities to play behind the line a lot more. Especially at least one of them has to have ability to play as a second line to complement Cat’s movements, because if she’s coming underneath the line, somebody has to stretch them out, and that’s where Soph comes in,” Andonovski said.
With Macario up top and central, playing the ball through the middle is also a goal.
“At times we were forcing it, but we wanted to do that,” Andonovski said. “We wanted to be brave, we wanted to try to be more creative and unload the team in different ways.
“We want to win every game we step on the field, we want to win every tournament, but for us, the most important thing is to get something out of it and ultimately win the qualifiers and qualify for the World Cup and win the World Cup.”
Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.