US women's soccer lost its most promising young star to injury, and it could threaten the team's World Cup run
- Catarina Macario has become the most promising young star on the US Women's National Team.
- The 22-year-old forward tore her ACL during her final game of the season with French club Lyon.
The US Women's National Team will be without its most promising young star for the foreseeable future.
Catarina Macario — the 22-year-old forward who has been in sensational form for club and country throughout 2022 — tore the ACL in her left knee just minutes into her final game of the season with European powerhouse Olympique Lyonnais (Lyon). She wrote on social media that while she's "devastated to be away from the field and my teammates for a few months," she has "no doubt that with the right support system, patience, and hard work, I will be back better and hungrier than ever before."
—Catarina Macario (@catarinamacario) June 5, 2022
The Brazilian-American Stanford alum was mere weeks removed from helping the French side past FC Barcelona in the Champions League final, scoring one of the three goals that secured Lyon its eighth Champions League title and a team-leading nine goals throughout the tournament. Roughly one week later, Macario netted the lone goal that lifted Lyon past rival Paris Saint-Germain for the French Division 1 Féminine title.
She's been similarly impressive with the national team, scoring five goals — tied for most on the roster — in five starts on the year. But her ability to orchestrate the attack as a false nine, or a center forward positioned just in front of the midfield, was arguably even more valuable to the USWNT than her clinical finishing ability.
As her tenure with the national team has progressed, Macario has increasingly become the centerpiece of head coach Vlatko Andonovski's offense. It's worked beautifully for the Stars and Stripes, but without Macario available, the reigning World Cup champions will need to shift their strategy — and they'll need to do it quickly.
The USWNT will play two stateside friendlies against Colombia in late June. Then, shortly thereafter, Andonovski and company will head to the 2022 Concacaf W Championship in Mexico, playing for a chance to lock in a spot for both the 2023 World Cup in Australia/New Zealand and the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
Although the USWNT is still the top-ranked national team in the world, securing bids to both tournaments is no easy feat. Losing Macario is a massive blow regardless of the competition, but it's particularly painful as the national team gears up for a potential battle against the reigning Olympic gold medalists — Canada — to qualify for the next Games.
Her absence may have longer-term repercussions for the national team, too. In an announcement published on Sunday, Lyon said Macario would undergo surgery "in the coming days" and estimated its young star would be away from the pitch for six months — or until December.
But that's a fairly ambitious timeline; according to the Mayo Clinic, athletes often need between eight months and a year to recover from an ACL rupture before returning to competition. Based on that evaluation, Macario would be ready to go between February and June 2023. The World Cup kicks off in July.
Lyon's optimistic projection offers her ample time to build chemistry with those chosen for the World Cup roster. The seemingly more realistic timeline leaves only an abbreviated window to prepare for the trip Down Under.
Andonovski has some unenviable decisions to make. Does he take the risk and shape his offense around Macario in hopes she'll be ready to slide back in come July? Or should he play it safe and reformat the attack in the event the worst-case-scenario comes to fruition?
Macario's upside can't be overstated; she's a generational talent who has managed to lead the world's most stacked club in her first year as a professional soccer player. But a miscalculated gamble yields severe consequences that may not satisfy the USWNT's championship expectations — a lesson Andonovski learned the hard way in Tokyo.
The relatively new national team coach opted to include a still-recovering Julie Ertz and Tobin Heath on his 18-person roster, which wound up being the oldest team on average at the Olympics. Without fresh legs — and with a healthy Macario seeing just seven minutes on the pitch — the Americans struggled against top competition and came away with a bronze medal.
Andonovski can't afford a repeat of those mistakes in Australia and New Zealand, where the USWNT will look to win its third-consecutive World Cup. Perhaps updates between now and the new year will offer Andonovski some clarity on which path to take. But at present, neither looks particularly appealing.
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