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When Catarina Macario left Brazil for San Diego at the age of 12, she came with a plan: She wanted to play soccer for the U.S.
What followed was a 10-year odyssey that took her through three age-group national teams, two youth programs, three seasons at Stanford, a citizenship test and, finally, FIFA approval to suit up for a senior game in her adopted homeland.
That final step came last week, and Macario wasted little time proving the long journey had been worth it, scoring her first goal less than three minutes into her first international start Friday in a 6-0 win over Colombia at Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Fla.
“The U.S. is the land of opportunity. It was just a dream that a little girl had,” Macario said. “I don't have the words to describe how wonderful this moment was. I'm definitely living the American dream.”
Macario, 21, made her U.S. debut off the bench in Monday’s 4-0 victory over Colombia before getting her first start Friday in place of Carli Lloyd. And she needed just 13 seconds to make her presence felt, setting up Rose Lavelle for a dangerous chance that Lavelle lifted well over the crossbar.
Macario didn’t miss when she got her first opportunity 2½ minutes later, making a perfectly timed late run at an Ali Krieger cross and one-timing it in from the edge of the six-yard box.
Megan Rapinoe doubled the lead in the 35th minute, deflecting the ball in off the right foot of Colombian defender Jorelyn Carabali late in a first half she closed with a penalty-kick goal that made it 3-0.
The U.S. tacked on second-half goals from Lynn Williams, Lindsey Horan and Margaret Purce, finishing the game with a 33-2 edge in shots. The top-ranked U.S., which has given up just a goal in its last 12 games, outshot Colombia 55-2 in the two games this week, extending its unbeaten streak to 34 games.
And now, with Macario, the team is even better.
"Cat is a different kind of player than that we've ever had,” Rapinoe said. “Obviously, she's creative. She can score goals. Physically, she’s ready to be at this level. She's quick, she's fast, she thinks fast. She's just going to be one of those fun players that you love to see. Someone that's going to excite the fans. We're already kind of seeing that in practice.”
Rapinoe said the team saw something just as special in the locker room this week.
It’s a tradition to give players signed game balls for their first cap and first goal, so Macario got two this week, mementos she said she would give to her parents to recognize the sacrifices they made for her. As for what those sacrifices meant to Macario, she spelled that out for her teammates.
“It’s actually kind of cute,” Rapinoe said. “We always kind of tease them like, ‘Speech, speech, speech.' She actually gave a little speech, talking about how she's looked up to this team for so long and dreamt of being on this team.
“And now her being in this position, it's just like this full-circle moment for all of us. She’s going to be fire. And I think we all can see that.“
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.