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Catarina Macario, a USWNT star felled by ACL injury, will miss 2023 World Cup

Catarina Macario said Tuesday that she won't be ready to play for the U.S. at the 2023 Women's World Cup. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster, File)
Catarina Macario said Tuesday that she won't be ready to play for the U.S. at the 2023 Women's World Cup. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster, File)

Catarina Macario, the brightest young star in U.S. women's soccer until she suffered a torn ACL last June, said Tuesday that she will miss this summer's World Cup while continuing to recover from the injury.

Macario, now 23, said in a statement that, "while I'm excited and super optimistic about my future as a footballer, I'm sad to share that I won't be physically ready for selection to our U.S. World Cup team."

Macario suffered the injury on June 1, 2022, while playing for her French club team, Lyon, the European champions. At the time, she was the club's leading scorer and an integral piece of the evolving U.S. women's national team. She'd just become the first American to score in a Champions League final. As a versatile attacker, she figured to be a breakout star at the 2023 Women's World Cup.

The injury required surgery and created uncertainty. But the assumption remained that Macario would recover in time for a World Cup, which at the time was 13 months away. Her recovery, however, has taken longer than expected.

In early February, U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski said that Macario was "doing well. She's going back to Lyon to start team training middle of February, and then hopefully we can see her starting playing for her club team sometime in the second half of March."

In April, though, Macario had not yet returned to France. She was still in Qatar, where she'd been rehabbing for months at Aspetar, an internationally renowned sports medicine facility. Andonovski and others around the program had grown less optimistic.

From Doha, Macario occasionally spoke about her World Cup aspirations. A picture of the trophy, which she'd set as her phone's home screen, reminded her of them every day. "The desire to return to play for my club and country has driven my training and fueled my everyday life," she said Tuesday.

"However, what's most important right now is my health and getting fit and ready for my next club season," Macario continued in her statement. Her contract at Lyon is expiring, and she'll reportedly sign for Chelsea, the likely 2022-23 Women's Super League champs in England.

"I am eternally grateful to Aspetar Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Hospital for always supporting me and guiding me in my rehab, and to U.S. Soccer and Vlatko Andonovski for prioritizing my long-term health over any individual and collective ambitions," she said.

The USWNT, meanwhile, will miss her creativity and goalscoring prowess in Australia and New Zealand, where the World Cup begins on July 20. Macario — who was born in Brazil and moved to Southern California at age 12 to pursue soccer — had been deployed as a striker by Andonovski, but can play anywhere in the attacking third or at the top of midfield.

With Mal Swanson also sidelined by a devastating knee injury, the U.S. will now be without two of its top attacking threats as it pursues a World Cup three-peat. In their absence, the likely front three will be Sophia Smith, Alex Morgan and Trinity Rodman. And Alyssa Thompson, an 18-year-old rookie who has burst onto the National Women's Soccer League scene this spring, will have a real chance to make the 23-woman roster.

Macario's major tournament debut could now come next summer at the Paris Olympics.