Brad Smith/ISI

Catarina Macario is on her way to becoming the face of the U.S. women’s national team. A two-time Hermann Trophy winner and NCAA champion at Stanford University, the Brazilian-born Macario recently acquired American citizenship on the same day she was called into her first full camp with the senior national team.

Now in the Netherlands training with the USWNT, Macario spoke with Just Women’s Sports about her future with the U.S., whether or not she’ll play for Stanford this spring, and what she’s learned about herself off the field this past year.

First of all, huge congrats on becoming a U.S. citizen. We’re all super excited for you. Can you put into words what that moment meant to you given your 8-year journey since moving to San Diego?

I mean, it meant everything. It still means everything to me, because when I first moved to the U.S., obviously as a little girl, you know how amazing and inspiring the women’s national team players are. For so long, I’ve wanted to be able to join them, and not only that, but to be a part of this wonderful country, which I feel is truly my home, despite being born in Brazil. I truly feel more American than Brazilian given the fact that my developmental years were here. I went to high school here, middle school, and everything. So it was the happy ending to a long and challenging journey. But it’s also just the beginning.

I saw your post and I loved how you mentioned the significance of being able to vote in this election and how that was super valuable to you. 

It was the first thing that I asked my officer when she facilitated the ceremony for me. It was the first thing that I wanted to do, because obviously, that is one right that a U.S. citizen has that a permanent resident does not have. Now I can actually voice my concerns, because I am a citizen of this country. So I’m grateful that it came just in time for me to do that.

I don’t know how much you can say about this, but where are you now in the process in terms of being eligible to play for the national team? 

Right now, I’m literally in the final steps. I have my U.S. citizenship, I have my physical passport, which is why I’m in the Netherlands. So now I just need FIFA to approve my waiver, and I guess just confirm so I can switch my naturalization from Brazil to the U.S. And then I’m good to go. I also do not know when that will happen—it can literally happen at any point. So if it comes before Friday, then I would be eligible to play. I’m just going with the flow and regardless of what happens, I’ll be prepared. 

I’m hoping that I’ll be able to play. If not, I still have a wonderful training environment here, and I’m learning so much from everyone and from all the coaches. Even if I have to miss a match, that’s okay, because I am learning so much. I’m just incredibly grateful to be here.

So when Vlatko called you in for this friendly, was his goal just to give you some experience, or is the assumption that you will be in the Olympic mix and eligible to play next summer in Tokyo?

I think his reasoning behind this camp was definitely getting me integrated within the mix and the group, and getting me with the players. It’s good to hear that he is talking about the Olympics and my role in it. I definitely want to be there. I think this camp was really the initial step to having that happen. Again, like I said, if I don’t play this match, it’s totally okay. It’s only a small part of the bigger picture.

It must be a huge confidence boost to hear him talk about that possibility for you. 

Yeah, any player would love to hear their coach talk about his goals for them. The fact that he has that confidence, that I could one, be eligible, and two, be able to play in that environment—that already gives me so much confidence. Now I want to prove to him and the team that I deserve to be here.

Vlatko himself became an American citizen a few years back. Have you had any conversations with him about what it means to be naturalized as an American?

We briefly talked about it, and he just said how happy he was that I was finally able to gain the certificate that essentially is the seal of approval that you actually belong in the U.S. He just said how happy he was for me, and again, the possibility that citizenship will give me and my family, et cetera. And obviously in the soccer aspect of things, just how he cannot wait to finally be able to coach me and just get me in with the group and what not. So we were all really excited for this long process to have finally come to an end. But at the same time, it’s only the beginning. That was our conversation.

Let’s talk about your first camp with the National team, which was last month. We saw a bunch of new faces there, and this was your first time playing with some of these players. What was that experience like?

It was definitely quite the experience. It was almost easier or more welcoming to the point that I knew that there were other new players as well, so I didn’t feel like I was necessarily standing out as that one new college player who is playing with all these wonderful, well-acclimated players. I was just happy to, one, have my teammate Naomi Girma come with me and experience that with me. That was so much fun, especially because it was just a training camp, so you didn’t necessarily have that pressure to make a game day roster or something like that. Everyone was really just going with the flow each day, just trying their best and showing the different things they can do. It was really fun, though Colorado was very cold.

After a few days of camp, did you feel like you got into the swing of things?

To some extent, yes. Initially, I’d say that I definitely struggled with the pace of things. I briefly mentioned on a video that we had with the USWNT media team, for example, that during my first five-on-five, I had Becky Sauerbrunn and Ali Kreiger in my group, players who I obviously look up to and have grown up watching. To have them be in my group was like, “oh my gosh, what is happening.” Everyone just always brings that high intensity. That not only comes from playing already, but just the fact that they’re on the national team and obviously some of the best players in the world. They find a way to always reach the next level. I think for me, it was another level that I had not seen or experienced before. One that I obviously knew that I could reach, but to have had that right out of the gate, was just like oh, wow.

I will say that I definitely struggled for a few minutes and what not. But eventually towards the end of the camp, I felt like I was able to show some great potential. I felt like, one, obviously I wished that I could have done more, that my body was able to do more. But I definitely felt like it’s totally fine. With more training, I’ve got this, you know?

You mentioned the excitement you felt getting to play with Becky and Ali. Were there any other players specifically that you were most excited to go against last camp and now in the Netherlands?

Last camp, obviously, Lindsey Horan, who plays in the midfield. I have been playing midfield for about a year now. I just tried to learn as much from her as I could, on and off the field. She is obviously a wonderful player, and is very welcoming as well. So I was just taking in as much as I could from her. I was trained to keep my ground as well, because I obviously knew that they’re so amazing, but I also knew that I have something to bring to the table, you know? I had that mindset, that obviously I look up to this player a lot, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t belong in this space.

It’s also super cool that you are playing with so many former Stanford players.

Yeah, it’s great. It makes the transition that much smoother. My first camp, Kelley O’Hara would talk a lot with me. Especially on the field. I think because she had gone to Stanford, and had gone through that process, we almost felt closer more quickly. I had already imagined that she was a super cool person, but to have actually come to know her in person just makes it all the better. I definitely feel comfortable around her. It’s just wonderful. Especially this camp, we have even more people as well, with Alanna Cook, Jane Campbell, etc. We definitely have that bond. Even though some of us didn’t play together, we’ll still always look out for each other.

What does your timeline look like for both the national team and Stanford after this trip?

After this trip, the national team will take a break until January camp, and then in terms of Stanford, we have a report date for the end of December, and we’re supposed to start training in the beginning of January. That’s all I have thus far.

How have you been balancing online classes and training? 

Honestly, in some ways it has been a blessing, and at the same time it has been hard. It’s to the point that, for example, if classes had not been online, I would not have been able to go to San Diego and do what I wanted to do. But it’s also very unfortunate, because I miss having that in person instruction, and just getting to know other people through class, and what not. So there are two sides of it.

In terms of training, I’d say that online school has probably made it easier to give me more flexibility, for example, if I want to train in the morning, that’s fine, because I’ll just watch the lecture later. While I feel like in person, my schedule is very structured, to the point that I can only practice during a two or three hour block, because that’s when I don’t have school. In terms of that, I’m very appreciative. I think I’ve been able to really fine tune the things that I wanted to work on. I’ve been able to have more agency in terms of training how I want to train, and focusing on what I want to do. And I mean there isn’t anything that we can do, really.

I’m not going to lie and say it’s not like I wasn’t sad that my season got postponed. But obviously, it is what it is. We have to do what is safe and healthy for everyone. We really just have to look at the things that we can take away from this time.

What have you heard from Stanford in terms of this season? 

To my understanding thus far, we are heading for it. The season will happen, with practice starting February third, if I’m not mistaken. And we start playing games in the beginning of March. So far, we are optimistic despite cases rising. We’ll just have to take it week by week. But I think this time has been good, as they can implement a safer protocol to have athletes return to playing.

There’s been a lot of talk around your professional future, either in the NWSL or Europe. Obviously, if you choose to go the NWSL route, you’re a shoe-in as the first pick. What will go into that decision, and have you set any personal timeline for making it?

Yeah, honestly that is big the question at the moment. It depends what’s happening with college. Obviously, I would love to play with Stanford again. But at the same time, it would be hard for me to play in the Olympics if I’m not playing games, or if I don’t have contact training, which I have already missed out on for essentially a year. If things are looking like they’ll keep getting postponed, or the season will be canceled, then I will definitely have to make a decision in terms of my future.

Thankfully, I’ve been taking many units and will be able to graduate after this quarter. So if I want to graduate now, I can, and I would be able to start my professional career without having to worry that I’m not getting my degree. I’ve always valued both my academic and athletic careers, so I’m just glad that I have finally reached the point where I can chill for now.

Obviously a lot has happened this year. We talked about Covid, there were also the protests over the summer and a contentious election, which we’re still dealing with. How has this year changed who you are off the field? 

I feel like 2020 has gone on for so long. As a person, I think that I’ve been able to take the time to really think of myself as more than an athlete. Especially because, given the pandemic, we have not been able to do as much as we are used to. It has really given me the time to reflect on what is important to me, whether that be Black Lives Matter, or even the election. To me, I’ve just really been able to take this time to think about who I want to be, how I want to use my platform, and the ways in which I want to make my voice heard. Which started with voting, as soon as I got my citizenship.

Despite so many bad things happening this year, I think this has been a great time to reflect. I think that myself and everyone else has a long way to go, but I’m excited for the future. I’m hoping that people will think of this year as an opportunity to reflect on their past selves, and also think about what they want to do going forward, what they want to say, what matters to them. I don’t think this would have been possible without the pandemic, honestly. Even though it’s horrible, there are always some silver linings to everything.

Last question for you. Obviously your first goal is to get through the final step of getting to play with the national team. Once that happens, what’s your ultimate goal with the national team?

Given that the Olympics are right around the corner, my ultimate goal as of now is to obviously make the roster. Ultimately, I think I just want to serve as an example that really anyone can achieve anything. Coming from Brazil, and going through so many obstacles, my goal now is to inspire people. That’s cliché, of course, the “never give up” message. It’s more just, that the things that are in your way will only make you stronger. They are there for a reason. I think for me, my whole life has really been a series of obstacles. If I can do it, then anyone can. And I’m not even saying, “Oh my gosh, I’ve had so many messed up things.” It’s not even that. If you have the determination and that commitment, and really believe in yourself, and you focus on your craft and what matters to you, then anything is possible.

I will carry that mentality going into the next few months leading into the Olympics. I will just work hard, and know that if it happens, it happens. If not, then I’m still going to be super proud of myself for coming this far and trying my hardest. At the end of the day, I won’t be disappointed. It’s going to be okay. We’ll move on from that. In four years, there will be another one. And even before then, there will be the World Cup.