Lyon’s Catarina Macario: ‘Choosing Europe was for moments like this’

The journey of the striker Catarina Macario from the Brazilian city of São Luís to a first Champions League final with the seven-times winners Lyon has been long but not surprising to those familiar with her remarkable backstory.

Macario is used to making bold decisions to further her steady and goal-laden rise. Her family swapped São Luís for Brasília for her mother’s job as a surgeon when she was seven and, when Macario was 12 and no longer allowed to play with boys, her father decided to split the family. He, Macario and her brother Steve moved to San Diego in the US so she could play while her mother supported the family from afar.

It was a risk, with Steve the only one able to speak English, but it paid off. Macario broke the scoring record in the Elite Clubs National League with the youth side San Diego Surf and earned the scholarship that propelled her rise.

When she decided to forgo her senior year at Stanford University to sign with Lyon, having won the NCAA Women’s College Cup in her freshman and junior years and twice won the MAC Hermann Trophy, awarded to the nation’s best player, it followed a pattern of change and adaptation she has become used to.

“Choosing to go to Europe was definitely based on wanting to play in moments like these, wanting to compete for a Champions League,” she says before Saturday’s final in Turin against the holders, Barcelona.

“So, the fact that we’re doing it is incredibly special. It means that I made a good decision. It’s been working out so far. I just wanted to play with the best of the best and be with them every single day in training and playing against them.”

This final is “set up to be one of the biggest Champions League finals thus far”, says the 22-year-old forward who has found her feet in France after a tough start.

“I had a lot of ups and downs, to be honest, in the beginning,” she says. “So the first six months really was a big transitional period. One in which I found myself almost doubting my abilities, just because it was very different from what I was used to in terms of speed of play, the culture, a new country, a new team. Of course, those things are always expected. But it definitely took some time to get up and running. I’m very grateful that I’m now able to say I’m out of that zone, and I’m currently playing my best football and able to help the team.”

Macario has scored 10 times in Lyon’s past 12 games to help them to the top of Division 1 with two matches to play and to the Champions League final after the team finished without a trophy last term.

“I’m glad that I can experience moments like these and be playing in big-stage games. That’s helped prepare me the most to be the type of player that I want to be and in order to help my national team as well.”

She is also learning from the best, with the Women’s Champions League’s record goalscorer, Ada Hegerberg, also at Lyon.

“She has a crazy mentality,” says Macario. “Very professional every single day. She just prepares like no other. The fact that I am able to just be around her and see what makes her so great every single day really helps. I try to be a sponge.”

Macario’s rise in college and through the youth ranks for the US meant she was eligible to play for Brazil and the US. On 18 January 2021 she made her debut for the world champions, the US, becoming the first naturalised citizen to play for the women’s senior side.

“So far, so good with the national team,” she says. “It definitely took some time to transition into the level of play. I’ve had a few good games with them, but I don’t think I’ve been my best self yet.

“I still have family in Brazil so I obviously try to remain engaged with the country, but given that my life is in the US and France, I don’t stay in touch too much with the news and things like that. From a soccer point of view it’s been just completely amazing seeing Brazil really up their support of women’s football with equal pay and whatnot.

“Having Pia [Sundhage, a former Sweden player and manager of Sweden and the US] as a coach is absolutely amazing [for Brazil] and she will play a key role in helping women gain support. Look at the history, how much Marta, Formiga, Cristiane have done with so little support. They’ve done so much; they’re such warriors … that everyone should admire.

“There’s a good momentum going forward with the Brazilian national team and it’s really cool. I don’t think anyone should have to move to a different country in order to pursue their dreams of playing football so I’m really glad that it seems to be getting better and better. That’s what everyone deserves.”

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