Catarina Macario, Mallory Swanson discuss USWNT returns: ‘You can’t take your health for granted’

Two players that the United States desperately missed during the 2023 Women’s World Cup are back in national team camp, with Mallory Swanson and Catarina Macario both returning for the SheBelieves Cup after long injury recoveries.

Swanson suffered a torn patellar tendon on April 8, 2023 in a national team game against the Republic of Ireland in Austin, Texas. Macario tore her ACL on June 1, 2022 while playing for her now-former club, Lyon. Macario’s last appearance for the USWNT was in a friendly against Uzbekistan on April 12, 2022 in Chester, Pennsylvania.

“I think the first thing that comes to my mind is just being grateful,” Swanson said about her return. “One thing that I learned throughout my injury was that you can’t ever take life for granted. You can’t take your health for granted.”

Both players ended up missing the World Cup. Their absences were a huge blow to the USWNT’s chances as they both played critical roles in the starting XI, and their return could be key for the USWNT’s Olympic hopes.

Swanson said that there was a moment after her first surgery that she thought she might still make it back in time for the World Cup. “I remember texting my surgeon and being like ‘How long is this recovery,’ and he was like ‘Six months,’ and I was like ‘Oh, I can make it four. I’m gonna do it,’” she said.

But, as she revealed on The Women’s Game podcast in February, she suffered a septic infection in her knee after the first surgery and had to have a second surgery to remove the infection.

“And I think that was the point that really slowed me down,” she said. “And looking back at it, I’m very thankful for how everything worked out because ultimately I learned a lot about life. I’ve never gone through something like what I went through and I think it gave me some time to evaluate myself, evaluate my life, and also take a step back and enjoy, honestly, being with my husband in Chicago.”

Meanwhile, Macario was rehabbing in London during the World Cup and said it was difficult to watch the tournament. But it was also a sunny summer in the city, which helped.

“(The sun) helped a lot to feel like I was a little bit back home in San Diego or Brazil,” she said. “I just tried to focus on the little things that I could control, and obviously it did take a lot longer than I expected, which was devastating. But the most important thing is that now I’m back and I hope that I can contribute to the team as much as possible leading up to the Olympics and this tournament as well. I just feel like I’ve been very, very blessed with all the people around me showing so much support and love and not feeling rushed to come back.

“Even though I could have had two children by now,” Macario added, laughing.

The USWNT will face Japan on Saturday, April 6 in the first of two games for the nation in the truncated SheBelieves Cup. Before joining the USWNT in training, Swanson and Macario returned to play for their respective clubs and have looked in good form. Swanson played a full 90 minutes for the Chicago Red Stars last weekend, scoring a goal against the Orlando Pride. Macario has been building her minutes for Chelsea since her return to play on March 3 as a substitute against Leicester City, a game in which she also scored a goal.

Being able to get back into the rhythm of games with their clubs has been a matter of communication between themselves, their clubs, and U.S. Soccer, and some good timing. Macario, of course, can go directly to future U.S. head coach Emma Hayes at Chelsea for feedback, but said she ultimately left the loading to the experts.

“I know that Chelsea and U.S. Soccer, they’re basically having meetings all the time and just try and figure out the right way to manage me in order to allow me to be in this environment for as long as possible,” she said. “Considering that I’ve been out for so long, we do have to take certain things into consideration.”

Swanson, who also played 80-plus minutes in two NWSL games before that last weekend, didn’t hide that it was a grueling transition.

“I was just like, ‘Welcome back!’ I forgot how hard (playing 90 minutes) is,” she said. “I think with U.S. Soccer and then with the Red Stars and talking to (head coach) Lorne (Donaldson), I think the timing actually worked out pretty well being able to use preseason and those preseason games as games that I can build minutes in.”

SheBelieves will be the last games under interim head coach Twila Kilgore. Emma Hayes will arrive in June for two friendlies against South Korea, which is a short window for both Swanson and Macario to get back up to speed with the national team as well as to adjust to newer and younger teammates who have joined the pool, including Jenna Nighswonger, Olivia Moultrie, and Jaedyn Shaw. There are also newcomers like Eva Gaetino and Lily Yohannes, whom Macario got a chance to see up close when Chelsea faced Ajax in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal.



At 16, USWNT midfielder Lily Yohannes is right on time

“She’s a tremendous player. Really sweet girl. I honestly cannot believe that she’s 16,” said Macario. “She just reads the game so well and you can really see that. Ajax, they had a tremendous run in the Champions League and I do feel like that was a lot thanks to her.

“I remember joking around with her after the first game, I was like, ‘Oh, you’re American, right? You’re gonna join us?’ or something like that. And then I find out a few days later that she was called into camp. So that was really sweet.”

Both Swanson and Macario were clearly in good spirits, laughing as they answered questions and ruminated on returning to play together after long recoveries.

“I feel like it’s always once something’s taken away from you, you always have a new perspective on it,” said Swanson. “I’m very just grateful to be back in this environment, back with this team and wearing the crest because it means so much.”

Macario described how it felt to step back on the field when she substituted in for Chelsea against Leicester. She said it felt the same being back in USWNT camp.

“It just really felt like a dream, just felt surreal,” she said. “It almost, looking back in the 641 days that it took, it just kind of all happened in the blink of an eye.”

(Top photo: Getty Images)

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