Women’s soccer is growing around the planet, slowly narrowing an unmistakable gap with the United States that has existed for decades.

Positive steps, though, are often answered by a swell of American arrivals. And with the Olympics scheduled to take place this summer and a new World Cup cycle on the horizon, the U.S. squad has introduced another gem.

Meet Catarina Macario, a 21-year-old attacker who on Friday scored 2½ minutes into her first start as the Americans cruised to a 6-0 victory over Colombia in a friendly in Orlando.

Megan Rapinoe scored twice in the first half, helping the top-ranked United States extend its unbeaten streak to 34 over two years and its undefeated run at home to 50 since July 2017.

With nothing at stake and Colombia badly overmatched, Macario was the focal point.

Her path to the national team was hardly normal. Born in the northern Brazilian city of São Luis, she played almost exclusively with boys. At age 12, she moved with her father and brother to San Diego while her mother, a doctor, stayed behind.

Macario parlayed a sensational youth career into a Stanford scholarship. After twice winning the Hermann Trophy, awarded to the top college player in the country, she turned pro this winter and signed with European champion Olympique Lyonnais.

Granted U.S. citizenship last fall and cleared by FIFA last week, she debuted with the national team Monday as a sub in a 4-0 victory over Colombia. On Friday, with Alex Morgan recovering from the coronavirus and Carli Lloyd, 38, resting after a 90-minute effort, Coach Vlatko Andonovski tapped Macario at center forward.

“This week I have had a lot of dreams come true and I am so grateful for it,” said Macario, who played 62 minutes Friday. “I am just trying to learn as much as I can from all of them. I’m just so happy I actually get to play with them now and take my game to the new level because they are so intense and so good.”

Macario wasted little time, one-timing Ali Krieger’s cross from six yards. Later in the half, she hit the left post from the top of the box and forced goalkeeper Sandra Sepúlveda to make a diving save on a 23-yard bid.

“Physically, she is already ready to be at this level, which is a huge jump to go from college to this level,” Rapinoe said. “You saw she can hold it up, she’s quick, she’s fast, she thinks fast. She is just going to be one of those fun players that you love to see, someone that is going to excite the fans, someone that is going to come out with something creative.”

With only 18 Olympic roster slots available, five fewer than the World Cup, Macario does not have a lot of time to prove she belongs. She will face stiffer competition in the sixth annual SheBelieves Cup on Feb. 18-24 in Orlando against 10th-ranked Japan, plus Canada and Brazil, who are tied for eighth.

Macario was among seven new starters. She and three others — goalkeeper Jane Campbell and defenders Alana Cook and Tierna Davidson — have made fewer than 10 international appearances:

The only holdovers in the lineup were Rapinoe, midfielders Julie Ertz and Sam Mewis, and right wing Lynn Williams.

Colombia received good news earlier in the day: Four players who were held Monday because of coronavirus protocols were cleared.

Even with additional options, however, the 26th-ranked visitors were no match for the four-time World Cup champions, who remained unbeaten in eight meetings. Colombia’s European-based talent was unavailable while the United States was closer to full strength and took advantage of its depth.

After Macario’s goal, Rapinoe scored in the 35th and 44th minutes to increase her career total to 54. Her first of the evening came on a deflected, 15-yard shot, the second on a penalty kick after Mewis was pulled down on a corner kick.

Williams scored in the 60th minute, heading in Mewis’s cross from eight yards. Lindsey Horan volleyed in Crystal Dunn’s corner kick in the 73rd and Margaret Purce (Silver Spring) scored in the 86th.

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