Catarina Macario USWNT 2022Getty Images

Macario announces herself as USWNT star as wonder goals down Iceland to clinch SheBelieves Cup

Catarina Macario has shown flashes of her ability with the U.S. women’s national team since her debut in January 2021, but Wednesday may be remembered as the night she announced herself as a real star.

The 22-year-old scored not one, but two jaw-dropping goals in the first half against Iceland, and assisted another as the USWNT clinched the SheBelieves Cup with a 5-0 win in Frisco, Texas.

The goals were not her first with the national team, nor were they even her first golazos (a half-volley against Paraguay last fall certainly fits into that category) but Wednesday night felt different.

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Part of it was the context of generational change the SheBelieves Cup represented. Head coach Vlatko Andonovski opted to omit veteran attacking stars such as Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan in order to give some of his youthful forwards a chance.

Whereas Macario had always shared the field with established stars with the USWNT, this tournament saw her start all three matches alongside equally youthful players also looking to make their case.

And whereas Macario started her USWNT career with no professional experience, she is now a key player for European powerhouse Lyon. Her confidence is growing quickly, and on Wednesday it appeared to be increasing by the minute.

After Macario’s first goal, a stunning curler from outside that box that rang off the far post and in, she had the audacity to attempt a far-post chip with her first touch while running away from the goal. It was a shot few would’ve tried, and even fewer would’ve scored. Macario did.

"Cat is a special player," Andonovski said after the game. "She is a player with special qualities and obviously she scored two world-class goals. Goals like that should be on highlights reels all over the world."

Macario is proving that she belongs on the field for the USWNT, but where – and at whose expense – is a question that Andonovski will be forced to reckon with.

The SheBelieves Cup saw Macario deployed at the No.9 position, where she played more of a false nine at times as she dropped deep to find the ball. She has also played as a wide forward and as part of the USWNT’s midfield trio in its preferred 4-3-3 setup.

Mallory Pugh, who also scored a pair of goals on the night, was impressed with Macario's ability to play as a target forward.

"I've never played with Cat as the nine and I think this tournament she really did such a great job," Pugh said. "I think that we needed to see and learn what her tendencies are. For her it's to come back, control it, turn and play-make off of her."

Andonovski will have to decide how and if he wants to redeploy his veteran stars, and where the likes of Macario and other young forwards who’ve impressed at the SheBelieves Cup, like Pugh, Sophia Smith and others, will fit in.

But the more Macario performs like she did on Wednesday, the more Andonovski’s question will be where, not if, she starts on the field.

As the USWNT coach said: "She slowly but surely has become a total footballer."