Catarina Macario scored goals in six of Lyon’s 10 matches in the group stage of the UEFA Women’s Champions League. Days after playing in her first final in the competition, the Brazilian-born, American-born player is looking forward – but in a good way – to her first European final. And she’s picked a great season for this premiere: Catarina sees the 2021/22 edition as her biggest yet, thanks to her attendance records. For her, the final match against Barcelona will reflect the success of the tournament.
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“I think Barcelona is a great team, coached by a good coach. It will be an interesting match for sure. We also have a team with world-class players, and we have experience for our side”, assesses Lyon’s top scorer in the competition with seven goals. “It’s the defending champion facing the biggest winners. It’s going to be very balanced, frankly, very tight. I really think the winner will depend on who stands out on the day and who prepares better before the final.”
The athlete from Maranhão is one of the main bets for the future of both the French club and the national team. She has been criticized at times for her decision to defend the country she adopted as her childhood home, and she regrets the lack of support that kept her away, but celebrates the progress of the sport in Brazil.
“I don’t think anyone should move to another country to fulfill their dream of playing football,” the player responds Goal. “From a football point of view, it was surprising to see that Brazil have really increased their support for women’s football. I think having Villa as coach is very impressive, and she plays an important role in having that support. If you look at history, with all that Marta, Formiga and Christian have done so little, they are warriors, and everyone needs to admire them.”
Another important reference in Catarina’s career is Ada Hegerberg, the first Ballon d’Or winner and partner at Lyon. “For me personally, the fact that I’m playing with her and learning from her at my age is a wonderful experience.” Ada, who for 20 months suffered from an ACL injury, returned to play early in the season and became Katrina’s “older sister”. “She helps not only me, but also our teammates to be the best version of us. She is not only a great player, but also a great leader in our team.”
Between dreams of winning the Champions League, playing in the next World Cup, and joining the list of today’s top players, Catarina still demands a lot. She says she does not feel worthy of all the praise at both club and national team and reiterates several times that she still has a lot to improve. However, at the age of 22, the player feels that the experience of seeing her family relocate to another country so she can play has made her accustomed to demanding herself to perform well on the court.
“I’m used to the pressure, but playing in the final is a little different. It’s not the same pressure that I put on myself and my family. She wants to honor your team, play well and win. I think regardless, I’ll be confident, but I’m also nervous in a good way, because I care” .
Catarina played football with the boys until the age of twelve, when the family decided to move to California. While she, her father, and her brother relocated to be able to study and experience the football culture of the country, her mother, who is a doctor, stayed in Brazil to support the family. She also excelled in the youth categories and won several awards at Stanford University in college football. She left the university to play for Lyon in January 2021. Around the same time, she became the first naturalized player to play for the US national team, declining invitations to play for the Brazil national team.
Although there was the option to remain in the United States and pursue a career in the NWSL, the country’s women’s soccer league, she preferred to go to the French club. “The decision to go to Europe was based on the desire to play in moments like this, like the Champions League. So playing in this final is very special. I just wanted to play with the best, be with them every day, train and play,” he says. She ensures that she brings back what she learned in Lyon to the US national team. “I think the more I can adapt here, the more I can adapt at the national level as well. Now I feel very comfortable there because I feel comfortable here too.”
After fighting for Lyon’s eighth women’s championships on Saturday (21), at 14:00 (Brasilia time), Catarina and the lionesses are still searching for the Ligue 1 Femenen title. The dispute is fierce, but the head-to-head confrontation against PSG the following week will determine who will win the trophy. Then the focus is on the national team, which played friendlies against Colombia in June, and CONCACAF W, the tournament that guarantees a place in the 2023 World Cup.
Before the individual awards, Catarina’s desire was to help her comrades on this path. “I hope I can live up to the expectations that people have, but at the same time I know I can get there. I just want to be in environments that help me be the best version of myself. I feel that my journey from Brazil to the US national team has helped more than I was fantasizing about it, to be honest, and that translates on the pitch.”