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Catarina Macario prepared for a brand new chapter with USWNT

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12:22 ET

Graham HaysESPN.com

CloseGraham Hays covers college sports, including softball and soccer. Hays started ESPN in 1999.

After eight years of waiting, hoping, and navigating a complicated process, Catarina Macario spent less time completing her US citizenship than playing a football game.

Macario was called to an immigration office in San Jose, California for her citizenship test last week and answered six questions from her case officer. After answering all six correctly, she was presented with a package containing her certificate of naturalization. In normal times, Macario may have made an appointment to return to a swearing-in ceremony. In times of the coronavirus pandemic, the official informed her that she could wait for an ad hoc ceremony in the parking lot with other successful applicants or take care of it immediately in the office.

The Stanford Senior opted for the latter.

"To be honest, I had split times and almost just wanted to get it over with," said Macario. "I was alone anyway, so I just took the easier route."

Hours before the Brazilian-born Macario officially became an American citizen, US football announced that she was one of the players Vlatko Andonovski invited to the women's national training camp in October. Your first call to the senior national team coincides with the team's first activities since March and the first preliminary steps towards the Olympic Games planned for next summer.

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Conducted in a bubble and under strict COVID-19 protocols, the 10-day camp in Colorado is an afterthought for some. Much of the core of the team that won the 2019 Women's World Cup and qualified for the Olympics will be missing. Tobin Heath, Rose Lavelle, Alex Morgan and Sam Mewis are in England. Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe are voluntarily injured or absent. For many of the 27 invitees, however, the camp is an opportunity to make an impression with a new coach who is planning not only the Olympic Games next year, but also the 2023 World Cup.

For Macario, who is one step closer to becoming the first naturalized citizen to play for the women's team, the camp has been in preparation for a lifetime.

"The fact that it all happened on the same day was just magical," said Macario. "I know October 8th will forever be a very important date on my calendar."

Macario was delighted when she received the email a few days before the official announcement informing her of the upcoming invitation to camp, but she was also concerned when she spoke to Andonovski. She told him she was grateful for the call, but feared she might not be able to put her best foot forward.

USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski believes anyone who has seen Macario play for Stanford knows she's a special talent. Robin Alam / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It was not an easy year for American players, students or professionals, but at Stanford it was a special challenge. Not only has the Pac-12 canceled the fall season and parted ways with ACC, Big 12, and SEC in that regard, but due to restrictions in Santa Clara County, California, the Cardinal still couldn't train in groups big enough to compete . And to add another obstacle to Macario's path (along with that of teammate and roommate Naomi Girma), California forest fires during the fall meant that even conditioning and individual training were repeatedly abandoned due to air quality concerns.

Macario warned her new trainer that she wasn't going to get "Heather O'Reilly-esque fitness" up in the air in the Denver area. Andonovski assured her that he understood. He told her that he still wanted her to get a feel for the people, the system and the environment. National coaches, including Andonovski's predecessor, were patiently waiting to spend their time with one of the best players in college football history – the espnW Player of the Year in each of her first three seasons and a two-time Hermann Trophy winner.

"Anyone who's seen Catarina in college can say she's a special talent," said Andonovski. "She is incredibly skilled, can score in many different ways and is just fun. She has flair, she's very creative and she has the ability to create opportunities and score goals that anyone on the team would appreciate."

If anyone can understand the full extent of Macario's journey, it is Andonovski. Andonovski was born in what is now North Macedonia (but was then part of Yugoslavia) and initially only traveled to the USA for the opportunity to play professional football. Soon he was building a life here. His wife moved here. His children grew up here. He had the chance to coach the team that represents the nation.

Andonovski became a US citizen in 2015, which turned out to be a busy day for him too. Shortly after he was sworn in, he trained a NWSL game.

Macario never wanted to play for just the best women's soccer team in the world. She wanted to become an American citizen. Jamie Schwaberow / NCAA Photos via Getty Images

"For someone who's been through the process, I know it's stressful at times, but it's very fulfilling when you get the papers," Andonovski said. "The moment you apply for citizenship is the moment you choose to say, 'I want this to be my home. I want this to be my country. I want to be American. & # 39; And the moment you get the papers, you feel accepted and want to be part of this country. "

In addition to coming to the United States for football, Macario arrived with her father and brother almost a decade ago for further education and exercise, while her mother stayed in Brazil to continue her work as a doctor. And as with Andonovski, the opportunity to represent the country on a soccer field is much more the effect than the cause of looking for a permanent home here.

"I think it's really special because he gets it," said Macario. "He knows how special it is, how great it is for you to finally get your citizenship and almost feel the approval that you actually belong here … Whether or not he was a natural American "It would be fine. But I think it makes it all the more special that he knows the journey I had to be here today. It almost brings me closer to him because we come from almost the same background."

As an American, Macario is not yet ready to play for her country in international competition. The next step is to obtain their passport, which US football can use to submit the necessary documents to FIFA in order to obtain clearance to play. Since she has never played for Brazil and FIFA recently changed its naturalized citizen rules, these should be largely superficial steps. It should be an option sooner rather than later, maybe even in time for the SheBelieves Cup, when US football finds a way to pull this off in early 2021. With the pandemic change in schedule, Macario admitted the Olympics are a goal.

Yet October 8th was the day Macario waited for most of his life, even if it meant nothing towards the end of the trip. She never just wanted to play for the best women's team in the world. She wanted to be an American.

"I think I am almost more grateful to be a part of this country this year, precisely because it is built on the people," said Macario. “If I'm part of it, I can help change and make this country a better country. It literally starts with me voting and doing my part as an American citizen and getting my opinion and my vote out there. ""

Between the foregoing, the protocols required to pull it off, and the attendance list, this will be an American training camp that is second to none. But it's also different from any other camp because it includes one of the newest Americans.

And it's time for 2020 to bring good news.

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Melinda Martin