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Catarina Macario ready for new chapter with USWNT

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After eight years of waiting, hoping and navigating a complicated process, Catarina Macario spent less time completing her U.S. citizenship than she does playing a soccer game.

Called to an immigration office in San Jose, California, last week for her citizenship test, Macario answered six questions posed by her case officer. After she answered all six correctly, she was presented with a packet that included her certificate of naturalization. In normal times, Macario might have scheduled an appointment to return for a swearing-in ceremony. In coronavirus-pandemic times, the official told her she could wait around for an ad hoc ceremony in the parking lot with other successful applicants or take care of it right away in the office.

The Stanford senior opted for the latter.

“Honestly, I had midterms and I almost just wanted to get it over with,” Macario said. “I was by myself anyway, so I just chose the easier route.”

Hours before the Brazilian-born Macario officially became an American citizen, U.S. Soccer announced she was among the players whom Vlatko Andonovski invited to the women’s national team training camp on October. Her first call to the senior national team coincides with that team’s first activities since March and first tentative steps toward next summer’s rescheduled Olympics.

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The 10-day camp in Colorado, which will be conducted in a bubble and under strict COVID-19 protocols, is an afterthought to some. Much of the core of the team that won the 2019 Women’s World Cup and qualified for the Olympics will be absent. Tobin Heath, Rose Lavelle, Alex Morgan and Sam Mewis are in England. Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe are injured or absent by choice. But for many of the 27 invitees, the camp is a chance to make an impression with a new coach who is planning not just for the Olympics next year, but the 2023 World Cup.

For Macario, who moves one step closer to becoming the first naturalized citizen to play for the women’s team, the camp was a lifetime in the making.

“The fact that it all happened the same day was just really magical,” Macario said. “I know that Oct. 8 will forever be a very important date in my calendar.”

Macario was ecstatic when she got the email informing her of the impending camp invite a few days before the official announcement, but she was also apprehensive when she spoke with Andonovski. She told him she was grateful for the call-up but worried that she might not be able to put her best foot forward.

This hasn’t been an easy year for any American players, college or professional, but it has been particularly challenging at Stanford. Not only did the Pac-12 cancel the fall season, parting ways with the ACC, Big 12 and SEC in that regard, but restrictions in California’s Santa Clara County mean the Cardinal still haven’t been able to train in groups big enough for competition. And to place one more obstacle in Macario’s path (along with that of teammate and fellow camp invitee Naomi Girma), wildfires in California throughout the fall meant that even conditioning and individual training were repeatedly put on hold due to air-quality concerns.

Macario warned her new coach that she wasn’t going to bring “Heather O’Reilly-type fitness” to the camp in the Denver area’s thin air. Andonovski assured her he understood. He told her he still wanted her to get a feel for the people, system and environment. National team coaches, including Andonovski’s predecessor, already waited patiently to get their time with one of the best players in the history of college soccer — the espnW player of the year in each of her first three seasons and two-time Hermann Trophy winner.

“Anyone who has seen Catarina play college can tell that she is a special talent,” Andonovski said. “She’s incredibly skillful, can score in many different ways and is just fun to watch. She’s got a flair, she’s very creative and she’s got this ability to create chances and score goals that anyone would welcome on the team.”

If anyone is in position to understand the full scope of Macario’s journey, it’s Andonovski. Born in what is now North Macedonia (but was then part of Yugoslavia), Andonovski initially traveled to the United States for little more than the chance to play professional soccer, but he soon built a life here. His wife moved here. His children grew up here. He earned a chance to coach the team that represents the nation.

Andonovski became a U.S. citizen in 2015 on what proved to be a busy day for him, too. He coached an NWSL game shortly after being sworn in.

“For someone that has gone through the process, I know that it is stressful at times, but it is very fulfilling when you obtain the papers,” Andonovski said. “The moment you apply for citizenship is the moment when you decide to say, ‘I want this to be my home. I want this to be my country. I want to be American.’ And the moment you get the papers is when you feel like you’ve been accepted and you’re wanted to be part of this country.”

Macario didn’t come to the U.S. solely for soccer, arriving with her father and brother almost a decade ago to pursue educational and athletic opportunities while their mother remained in Brazil to continue her work as a physician. And like with Andonovski, an opportunity to represent the country on a soccer field is much more the effect than the cause of pursuing a permanent home here.

“I think it’s really special because he gets it,” Macario said. “He knows how special it is, how big of a moment it is for you to finally get citizenship and feel almost that feeling of approval that you actually belong here. … Either way, whether he was naturally American or not, it would be fine. But I think it makes it all the more special the fact that he knows the journey I had to be here today. It almost makes me closer to him because we almost come from the same background.”

Now an American, Macario isn’t quite ready to play for her country in international competition. The next step is obtaining her passport, which will then allow U.S. Soccer to file the necessary paperwork with FIFA to obtain clearance for her to play. Because she never played for Brazil and because FIFA recently amended its regulations regarding naturalized citizens, those should be largely perfunctory steps. She should be eligible sooner rather than later, perhaps even in time for the SheBelieves Cup, if U.S. Soccer finds a way to pull off that event in early 2021. With the pandemic-related change in schedule, Macario acknowledged that the Olympics are a goal.

And yet even if it didn’t mark anything close to the end of the journey, Oct. 8 was the day Macario waited most of a lifetime to live. She never wanted to merely play for the best women’s team in the world. She wanted to be an American.

“I think I am almost just even more grateful to be a part of this country this year, exactly because it is built on the people,” Macario said. “So for me to be part of that means that I can help change and I can help make this country a better country. Literally that starts with me voting and doing my part as an American citizen and getting my opinion and my vote out there.”

Between what preceded it, the protocols necessary to pull it off and the list of attendees, this will be a U.S. training camp unlike any other. But it’s also unlike any other camp because it includes one of the newest Americans.

And it’s about time 2020 offered up some good news.

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Khabib: Only want St-Pierre bout after Gaethje

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UFC lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov said Tuesday that Georges St-Pierre is the only person he’d be motivated to fight after Saturday’s bout against interim champ Justin Gaethje.

“I really become excited when I think about Georges St-Pierre,” Nurmagomedov said on ESPN’s First Take. “I don’t know if he wants to fight with me or not, can he make weight — 155 or not — but this fight makes me excited, honestly.

“And I think me vs. Georges is going to be very, very big fight. Like big fight for fans, big fight for pay-per-view, big fight for analytics, for everybody. This is only fight in UFC, after Gaethje, that makes me very excited.”

Nurmagomedov (28-0) will be favored when he puts his perfect record on the line against Gaethje (22-2) in the main event of UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi.

There has been speculation that Nurmagomedov’s next opponent would be the winner of the proposed bout between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier on Jan. 23. Nurmagomedov submitted Poirier in the third round on Sept. 7, 2019, and he submitted McGregor in the fourth round on Oct. 6, 2018.

“I finished both of them, and finished in dominant position, a dominant performance,” Nurmagomedov said. “And I’m not interested in both of those guys, because I need something new. I need new blood, new energy. Justin Gaethje gives me new motivation. He’s the real deal. Right now, he’s interim champ, he’s very tough guy.

“If I think about both, Dustin and Conor, they don’t give me good energy, they don’t give me motivation. Fight for what? For my legacy? I already put these guys on my list. I already beat them. Everything is finished with these guys.”

Nurmagomedov said a couple more fights will be “great for my legacy,” and his father, Abdulmanap, who died in July of heart problems complicated by the coronavirus, had suggested his son retire with a 30-0 record.

St-Pierre, who’s one of the greatest fighters in MMA history, has flirted with the idea of coming out of retirement, but only to face Nurmagomedov.

“If I come back, it would be for one fight,” St-Pierre told ESPN on Oct. 7. “And I need to take, for me, the biggest fish. And the one — for me, I believe — the top guy right now, the name is Khabib.

“As a fighter, the most exciting thing is to take the guy who seems invincible, unbeatable. He has the aura of invincibility. But it’s also the scariest thing to do.”

St-Pierre, who hasn’t fought since beating Michael Bisping on Nov. 4, 2017, isn’t sure about dropping down to 155 pounds for the first time. He fought most of his career at 170 pounds.

UFC president Dana White has expressed an openness to granting Nurmagomedov’s wish about fighting GSP.

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Is Tua Tagovailoa ready to become Miami’s biggest star since Dan Marino?

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Editors’ note: Rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will take over as the Miami Dolphins’ starter beginning Week 8 against the Los Angeles Rams, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. This story originally published on May 25, 2020.

Leaps into swimming pools. Emotional moments of jubilation. Tears of joy. Fifteen words delivered by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell — “With the fifth pick in the 2020 NFL draft, the Miami Dolphins select Tua Tagovailoa” — elicited all that plus a belief the moment will change the Dolphins’ franchise forever.

Over the past month, there has been an innate buzz burgeoning nationally, but especially in South Florida, that can be summed up as a Tua frenzy. An 11-minute fan-generated YouTube video provides a visual.

“Tua is far by himself — never seen anything like this buzz from a draft pick here. There’s no close second,” said Dolphins color commentator and radio host Joe Rose, who played for the franchise alongside Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino from 1983 to 1985. “We have a rock star here in Tua. This team has been in mediocrity for so long. It’s lacked the Dan Marino star power, the Ricky Williams star power. Tua’s the next guy in that group.”

Despite the love, it’s too early to crown Tagovailoa. He hasn’t even played an NFL game. Tagovailoa’s arrival is defined by hope and hype.

Even in his first month as a Dolphins quarterback, it is clear that if Tagovailoa lives up to expectations, he will be the face of South Florida sports for a while.

How will Tagovailoa manage the pressure, the buzz, overwhelming positivity, eventual negativity and everything that comes with being hailed as the next big thing in a city starving for its latest sports superstar?

“The great thing for Tua is Dan Marino retired 20 years ago,” Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon said. “So it’s not like he’s following right behind a legend like Aaron Rodgers following Brett Favre or whoever follows Tom Brady. He just has to be himself. He can’t be Dan Marino. Just be yourself and rely on the people around you.”

‘It’s going to be Dolphins town’

A Mount Rushmore of athletes who have led South Florida pro teams probably starts with Marino and the Miami Heat‘s Dwyane Wade, but the initial expectations weren’t as high with either legend.

Wade remembers it wasn’t until after he led the Heat to their first championship in 2006 that he became the face of South Florida sports. He returned to Miami and hopped in his convertible with a buddy. Fans sighted him and rushed the car. He couldn’t drive another block.

“I looked at my friend and said, ‘Yo, this is different,'” Wade said. “I enjoyed it. But I knew it would never be normal in this city from that point on. I had to get used to being a celebrity. The perks were great, but the non-privacy was not so great.”

“Wade County” was born and didn’t slow down. His presence remains large in Miami, but since he retired following the 2018-19 season, there has been an active-superstar void.

Enter Tagovailoa.

“He’s a hell of a player. Miami, especially at the QB position, really needs that. They need a leader. They need a player,” Wade said. “To come in as a young player and win a game in the second half of a national championship game — that shows some grit, that shows some balls. People have to really believe in you. Miami needs that. The Dolphins need that. Even though I’m a [Chicago] Bears fan, I was rooting for them to get him because Miami needs to get back to where the basketball program is.”

Wade’s advice to Tagovailoa centers on how to handle fame; the future Hall of Fame guard says he would often deal with anxiety when he left the house. He felt the need to always be on as D-Wade even when he wanted to just be Dwyane. Wade said even though he wasn’t expected to “save the franchise,” once he became a fan favorite, he had to “figure out how to enjoy what you worked hard for, but keep a level of sanity at the same time.”

Wade is optimistic Tagovailoa will lift the Dolphins to a place they never reached while he was with the Heat.

“If the Dolphins get it going, it’s going to be Dolphins town. We did as much to make it a basketball town as possible, and Miami Heat is there to stay. But let’s not get it twisted: Florida is football. Once they get their s— together, they are going to be big and bigger,” Wade said. “But those Heat guys — Bam [Adebayo], Tyler Herro — are going to battle him for it. He’s got to earn it.

“How you put yourself in that conversation is doing something great, something that people have never seen before, and obviously winning.”

Marino was a ‘rock star’

Tagovailoa passed his first test by eschewing his college No. 13 — Marino’s number in Miami. Instead, Tagovailoa is paving his own path by becoming the first Dolphins QB to wear No. 1.

“I understand No. 13 is retired, and it should be. Dan Marino, he’s the GOAT. He’s like the mayor out there, and I have much respect for him,” Tagovailoa said. “I just want to have the opportunity to go out there and compete.”

Every quarterback who has arrived in Miami has been met with some mention of Marino, and Miami has started 21 quarterbacks since the Hall of Famer retired in 2000. The Dolphins haven’t had a Pro Bowl QB since then, which marks the NFL’s longest streak.

So while the expectations might seem unwieldy for a 22-year-old quarterback coming off a serious hip injury, this isn’t just any NFL city. He’s coming to a franchise that is thirsty for a star QB, and fans have been waiting on Tagovailoa for more than a year.

“When I got down there, the Miami Dolphins were Dan Marino’s town and team. It’s still that way,” former Dolphins great Ricky Williams said. “I was a running back, but no one has even come close to eclipsing the success that Dan had in Miami as a quarterback. Even more so than what I experienced, Tua has the potential to be a big part of what it means to be a Miami Dolphin for a long time.”

Williams had a great run as the face of the Dolphins. Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas and Ryan Tannehill did, too. But none of them have the national pull Tagovailoa has now.

Rose says he remembers the buzz around Marino being relatively subdued when he arrived. The Dolphins, coming off a Super Bowl XVII loss, were led by their “Killer B’s” defense, and they selected Marino with the No. 27 overall pick when he fell to them in the 1983 draft.

By the end of his record-setting 1984 MVP season, Marino was a superstar.

“When we went to New York, I saw the phone calls we got in our hotel room. I saw what movie stars and celebrities came around. People wanted to be around this guy,” Rose said. “We didn’t have the media and social media that they do now, so it could be a lot more hidden. He was big stuff. He was a rock star.”

Marino is the standard, but Tagovailoa doesn’t have to reach that level to be remembered in Dolphins history. As Moon and Wade have stressed, he just has to focus on being himself.

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Dwyane Wade expresses his thoughts on the Dolphins drafting Tua Tagovailoa and gives some advice for playing in the city of Miami.

Work, gain respect, then build the brand

Moon knows all about highly anticipated arrivals. After five Grey Cup titles in the Canadian Football League, Moon signed with the Houston Oilers and became the NFL’s highest-paid player in 1984.

With stars such as running back Earl Campbell and linebacker Robert Brazile already in Houston, Moon was conscious of veterans believing he was too full of himself. Moon’s response was to work hard, including lifting weights with the offensive line.

“When people came in the building, I was already there. When people left, I was still there,” Moon said. “Yeah, I had a lot of attention, but they saw my work ethic. When I got on the field, they started to see I could really play. What you’re trying to do is gain respect, and I think Tua will get that, too, because of his work ethic.”

Showing that work ethic and building camaraderie with teammates could prove to be more challenging for Tagovailoa this offseason with virtual meetings instead of in-person practices. But Tagovailoa has reached out to many of his Dolphins teammates via text messages and phone calls.

The other balance Tagovailoa will have to maintain is his unique marketability with Moon’s advice “to go in there with your head down and work.”

Tagovailoa, who signed a four-year, $30.3 million contract, has endorsement deals with Adidas, Hulu, Muscle Milk, Verizon, Wingstop, Gillette, Lowe’s, Bose and Call of Duty. He recently signed a multiyear, exclusive memorabilia-and-collectibles deal with Fanatics. He also has a documentary in the works detailing his journey to the Dolphins.

Agent Ryan Williams and Athletes First have handled Tagovailoa’s marketing demands, and he has immediately become one of the NFL’s most well-known young players. The people love the former Alabama quarterback, and that has shown up in the numbers. Tagovailoa is the top-selling NFL player in terms of overall merchandise sales since May 1 across the Fanatics network, which includes NFLshop.com and online team stores — above Tampa Bay’s Brady and Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, the No. 1 overall draft pick.

Moon remembered advice he was given by his agent, Leigh Steinberg, who also represents Tagovailoa: to take things slow on building your brand and try to avoid reading the headlines or social media.

“I just want to make sure that he doesn’t try to get too far ahead of himself. Football is what butters his bread,” Moon said. “If he doesn’t do well on the football field, everything else will go away. Knowing a bit about Tua, he’ll be fine.”

Tagovailoa showed humility throughout his college career. He has a connection to family and a desire to give back.

“I’m honored that the fans think so highly of me. But I haven’t done anything, yet,” Tagovailoa said. “What I did in college can’t translate to the NFL. It’s a clean slate. I’ve got to go out there and earn my respect and earn the trust from my teammates.”

‘The guys in that locker room’

The idea of becoming a star before even taking an NFL snap might be enough to make Dolphins coach Brian Flores’ head spin. A champion of competition and team-first mentality, Flores probably doesn’t care how many jerseys Tagovailoa sells as long as he produces on the field.

“The world will make you think that you’re this superstar. And maybe you are, but it doesn’t really matter,” Flores said last November regarding any particular player’s growing success. “The only thing that matters is the guys in that locker room.”

But there is an element of stardom Wade alluded to with which Flores probably will agree, and that’s winning. The New England Patriots became an NFL dynasty with a star quarterback because of their winning records and Super Bowl titles. The allure of Tagovailoa’s star power will be embraced should the Dolphins become title contenders year in and year out.

Before worrying about the celebrity, the more timely concern revolves around when Tagovailoa will get on the field. Some argue he should be an immediate starter, while others suggest a redshirt 2020 season. The most likely result appears to be somewhere in the middle.

The Dolphins are in Year 2 of a dramatic rebuild, but Flores always wants to win. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, the veteran incumbent, has the upper hand in securing the starting role for several reasons, thanks to his comfort in offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s scheme, his success guiding the Dolphins in 2019 (to five wins), his leadership in the locker room and a lack of a true offseason.

But Tagovailoa is also eager to learn under Fitzpatrick, saying on draft day in April that he wants “to understand the kind of person he is … nitpick him, ask him how he goes about preparing for a defense … and just being able to question him.”

Fitzpatrick vows to be Tagovailoa’s “biggest cheerleader,” but he won’t hand him the starting job in 2020. Tagovailoa probably wouldn’t want it any other way, because when football returns, he will get the opportunity to prove his worth.

Once Tagovailoa hits the field, the hope is he gets to become the greatest version of himself instead of being constantly compared to Marino. That weight is too heavy.

But becoming the long-term face of the Dolphins and South Florida sports? That’s well within Tagovailoa’s grasp.

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Raptors’ Bjorkgren named Pacers head coach

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The Indiana Pacers have agreed to a multiyear deal to hire Toronto Raptors assistant Nate Bjorkgren as their head coach, sources told ESPN.

Bjorkgren, a disciple of reigning NBA Coach of the Year Nick Nurse, sold the Pacers on his history of innovation, adaptability and winning in his time as an NBA assistant and G League head coach, according to sources.

Bjorkgren worked with Nurse in two stops in the G League, winning a title with him in 2011 in Iowa. Bjorkgren reached the G League Finals as head coach of Santa Cruz in 2013 before arriving in the NBA in 2015 as an assistant with the Phoenix Suns.

Bjorkgren, 45, reunited with Nurse in Toronto in July 2018 and was a part of his staff in the Raptors’ championship season.

The Pacers are replacing Nate McMillan, who was dismissed after four consecutive trips to the playoffs. McMillan had a 183-136 record in Indiana, including 3-16 in the postseason.

The Pacers have made five consecutive postseason appearances but have been swept in the first round each of the past two years.

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