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Catarina Macario ready for new chapter with USWNT



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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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home



On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”



Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.


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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment



The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.


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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls



With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

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