Analyzing Catarina Macario, a young star for the USWNT

Quick
Hits
  • The U.S. women’s national team’s group of young, talented attackers is headlined by Lyon’s Catarina Macario
  • At just 22, Macario has a wide range of skills and has been one of the best attackers in Europe this season
  • Macario’s goal-scoring mixed with her distribution makes her an extremely dangerous No. 9

There are a lot of exciting things happening with the United States women’s national team right now. 

Earlier this week, the USWNT finally achieved equal pay with the USMNT: a new collective bargaining agreement was announced that will ensure equal compensation for U.S. men’s and U.S. women’s national team players.

Then, looking towards the field, there’s that incredibly talented generation of young attackers who are ready to impact the United States in a real way this summer. With Sophia Smith, Ashley Sanchez, Mallory Pugh, Trinity Rodman, and Catarina Macario, the USWNT has a group of attacking midfielders and forwards that can change games. 

Macario in particular is a player to watch for the U.S. this summer at the 2022 Concacaf W Championship. She has a combined 20 goals this season for Lyon in the Division 1 Féminine in France and the Champions League.

For head coach Vlatko Andonovski, that Concacaf championship in July will be a huge opportunity to remake the national team after the United States’ struggles at the Olympics last year. Macario only played seven minutes at those Olympics, but since then the 22-year-old attacker has started all but three of the U.S.’s 12 games and has scored seven goals in the process.

What is it that makes Macario such a special player? Let’s dive in.

A true goal-scoring threat

Back before Macario had ever set foot in a U.S. senior women’s national team camp, Andonovski knew just how good she could be.

“She’s incredibly skillful,” the United States head coach said back in October, 2020. “It’s just fun to watch,” he added later. “She’s got a flair, she’s very creative and she’s got the ability that anyone would want: the ability to create chances to score goals that anyone would welcome on a team.” 

In her time with Lyon and the USWNT, we’ve seen plenty of Macario’s ability to score goals. Right now, she’s second in the Division 1 Féminine’s golden boot race and is fourth in the league in goals per 90 minutes. Often playing as a No. 9 with the U.S. and as an attacking midfielder for Lyon, Macario brings ingenuity with her wherever she goes. And she does go quite a bit. 

Here, you can see the 22-year-old’s heat map from this year with Lyon. The map indicates the different areas of the field where Macario has touched the ball for her club in 2022, attacking from left to right:

Whatever position or role she’s playing, Macario influences her team in the final third.

She’s scored some incredible goals for both club and country this season, using that flair that Andonovski highlighted. This goal for the United States against Iceland back in February, where Macario cuts in on her preferred right foot and scores from the edge of the box at a ridiculous angle, is just one example.

I mean, this is absurd stuff:

A little over a month after scoring that goal with the U.S., Macario pulled off an entirely different (but equally absurd) goal for Lyon against Juventus in the Champions League. Playing as a midfielder, Macario took advantage of the space left behind by striker Ada Hegerberg and moved into the box. A soft first touch and a turn away from pressure created a shooting opportunity, which she seized. And then some.

Macario isn’t just about wild bangers and outrageous turns, although that is certainly a part of her game.

No, she also does a lot of the sustainable goal-scoring and chance creation things that the world’s best players do. Macario often sees and exploits high-value spaces in the attack, which then translates to quality scoring opportunities. According to StatsBomb, Macario is in the 93rd percentile among forwards in Europe’s major leagues in expected goals per 90 minutes. She’s also in the 93rd percentile for touches in the box per 90, indicating that she’s a regular threat to pop up and create problems for opposing defenses. 

Macario shoots from outside the box a little too much, but setting that aside: she creates her own shots even when surrounded by defenders, she’s a threat with her off-ball movement, and she can score from set pieces. She just moves, thinks, and acts faster than pretty much anyone.

It’s no wonder why Andonovski has mostly moved towards using her as the No. 9 in his 4-3-3. 

Elite chance creation

Macario doesn’t just create chances for herself. She creates for her teammates, too. In fact, she’s one of the very best in all of European club soccer at setting up her teammates. According to StatsBomb, Macario’s 0.33 expected assists per 90 minutes put her in the 99th percentile among forward’s in Europe’s major leagues. 

When she plays as a striker, Macario finds and executes passes that few other No. 9s in the world can. The 22-year-old sometimes stays high and challenges opposing center backs before picking out a pass. Other times, she drops into midfield to distribute as a false nine.

The two passes in the video down below are two great illustrations of Macario opening up the game with her passing from the striker spot. 

This first one comes against an outmatched Uzbekistan team, but the back heel that sends Smith in behind the opposing defense is still brilliant. The second pass, against the Czech Republic in the SheBelieves Cup back in February, is another quick, right-footed ball that helps Smith attack downhill. 

When Macario plays a little deeper – or a little wider – she uses her extra time on the ball to pick out devastating passes like this outside of the foot assist against Paris FC.

Macario’s mixture of vision, timing, and technique makes her a consistent threat to break the game open with her passing.

Dribbling and athleticism

Let’s talk about one more part of Macario’s game: her dribbling. If the ball is at the young attacker’s feet, she is going to run at a defender.

Per StatsBomb, Macario is one of the most active dribblers in Europe, averaging 2.52 successful dribbles per 90 minutes. That puts her in the 97th percentile. Macario almost always pushes play forward, using her momentum to carry both herself and the ball closer to goal. Her speed makes it extremely difficult for opponents to stop her in the open field.

When she’s with the national team, the U.S. can take full advantage of that athleticism in the transition moments they create out of their 4-3-3 defensive shape. It’s worth noting that Macario is no slouch in the press: she’s in the 94th percentile among forwards in pressure regains per 90 and in the 79th percentile in pressures per 90 with Lyon.

Maybe even more valuable for the USWNT than her play in the open field, Macario’s comfort in tight spaces can help break down low blocks. Because the United States has so much attacking talent, opponents tend to take a more reserved approach to defending against them. Teams are hesitant to give the U.S. too much space to run into, so the USWNT end up facing a lot of low blocks. 

With her on-ball gravity, Macario can help the United States break through those blocks by drawing defenders in before bouncing the ball out to a teammate…or simply scoring herself.

At just 22, Macario has already become a key player for two of the best teams in the world, one at club level and the other at international level. When you think about her goalscoring, chance creation, physicality, and skill on the ball, it’s easy to see why.

With Macario leading the line (or dropping into midfield or shifting out to the wing), the USWNT have a bona fide star on their hands.