The USWNT's most promising young prospect spurned the NWSL but insists the decision to go overseas wasn't 'about salaries'

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Meredith Cash
·4 min read
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catarina macario
Catarina Macario, the 21-year-old widely seen as the USWNT's next big star, skipped out on the NWSL to sign with European powerhouse Lyon. John Todd/ISI Photos/Getty Images
  • Catarina Macario has signed a 2.5 year contract with European powerhouse club Lyon.

  • The 21-year-old former Stanford standout is seen as a future USWNT superstar.

  • Her decision to play abroad is a huge blow to the NWSL, which has been hemorrhaging superstars to European leagues in recent months.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Catarina Macario is the next big name in American soccer, but don't get used to watching her play stateside.

catarina macario
Catarina Macario competes with the Stanford Cardinal. John Todd/ISI Photos/Getty Images

The 21-year-old former Stanford Cardinal standout - who is already viewed as a US Women's National Team superstar to those well-versed in the women's soccer sphere - has signed a 2.5-year contract with European heavyweight club Olympique Lyonnais, better known as Lyon. The French club is home to seven of Insider's top 50 soccer players of 2020 and has captured the UEFA Women's Champions League trophy in eight of the past nine seasons.

"I just know that Lyon is the best team in the world and that they're competitors," Macario said Tuesday from the USWNT's January camp in Orlando, Florida. "Being in this environment every day where I'm playing against the best players in the world in training... I think that will challenge me."

"I'm not going to be the best player on the field anymore, and that's what I want," she added. "That's how I can become a better player... I'll hopefully become this great player that a lot of people expect me to be."

Though her recent deal with Lyon likely came with a lucrative bonus, Macario insists that her decision to join the club was "not anything about salaries, really." Instead, the two-time MAC Hermann Trophy winner cited Lyon's top-notch resources, state-of-the-art facilities, high standard of excellence, and incredible pool of talent as part of what drew her to team up with the likes of Ada Hegerberg, Wendie Renard, Dzsenifer Marozsán, and more.

But Macario also said she wanted to take her talents overseas because of the "COVID uncertainty" surrounding playing in the United States. She likened playing in France's second-largest city to "taking a gap year."

"I am fresh out of college and I'm just looking for a new adventure," Macario said. "The best thing for me is to experience a new culture and learn from the best in the world."

lyon
Lyon celebrates winning the 2020 EUFA Women's Champions League title. AP PhotoAlvaro Barrientos

Her decision to play abroad is a huge blow to the National Women's Soccer League, the domestic league that, for many years, employed all active USWNT players. But Macario is just one of many American stars to sign with foreign clubs in recent months. The NWSL has been hemorrhaging superstars - including Americans Rose Lavelle, Sam Mewis, Tobin Heath, Christen Press, Alex Morgan, and Abby Dahlkemper as well as the league's all-time leading scorer, Australian Sam Kerr - as they flock to European leagues where their health and financial security are more of a guarantee.

But with three expansion teams joining the league over the next two seasons and the majority of the USWNT still playing within its ranks, the NWSL still appears to have a bright future ahead. That's not lost on Macario, who just recently became a US citizen and deeply values playing in the country she loves.

"I'd love to play for the NWSL one day," she said. "I know that will happen. I'm not sure necessarily when, but obviously as an American it's a dream to play where I reside. So I will definitely be coming back."

catarina macario
Catarina Macario. Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images

In the meantime, American soccer fans can prepare to watch Macario as she nears her first USWNT cap. As of Wednesday, the Brazilian-born star is permitted to represent Vlatko Andonovski's squad in international competition after a long-fought battle to secure her eligibility through FIFA. She'll have a chance to make her national team debut in the USWNT's upcoming matches against Colombia on January 18 and January 22.

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