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Orlando Pride Acquire Defender Shelina Zadorsky from Washington Spirit

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Pride send backup keeper Aubrey Bledsoe and a first-round pick in 2019 to Washington.

Canada v United States Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Tom Sermanni has added some defensive help to the Orlando Pride by acquiring defender Shelina Zadorsky from the Washington Spirit in exchange for backup goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe and the club’s natural first-round selection in the 2019 NWSL College Draft. Sermanni is well acquainted with Zadorsky — a Canadian international who won a bronze medal in 2016 at the Summer Olympics — after working with the Canadian Women’s National Team in 2015.

“Shelina brings strong defensive qualities [to Orlando],” said Sermanni in a club press release. “The way we play, one of our emphases this year is that we need to be less vulnerable defensively. Bringing in Shelina, who is an out-and-out center back who also has extensive international experience with the Canadian National Team will be a big asset for us.”

Zadorsky, 25, played right central defense with the Spirit. She appeared in 21 matches last season, finishing second among all Washington players in minutes played (1,793). The London, Ontario native didn’t score a goal but recorded one assist on the year, attempting just six shots (two on goal). She finished fourth on the club in total touches (1,078) and she led all Spirit players in passing accuracy (80%) and clearances (100). Zadorsky conceded nine fouls on the season, won four, and was shown two yellow cards.

After playing collegiate soccer at the University of Michigan from 2010-2013, Zadorsky made 14 appearances during the 2014-2015 season in the W-League with Perth Glory, scoring her only professional goal over the course of 14 appearances. She played 18 games with Vittsjö GIK in Sweden in 2015 before joining the Spirit in 2016. In her first year in Washington, Zadorsky appeared in 11 regular-season matches and in both the Spirit’s playoff games.

She’s been part of the Canadian Women’s National Team setup since 2008, appearing with the U-17, U-20, and senior teams. She has one goal in 34 international appearances (32 starts) with Canada’s senior team. As a Canadian National Team player, Zadorsky’s contract was subsidized the last two seasons. Subsidized players for 2018 will be announced prior to the start of the season.

Bledsoe, 26, had a breakout year with the Pride in 2017 while filling in for an injured Ashlyn Harris (quad). The Cincinnati native went 5-4-2 over her 11 appearances in the net — all starts — from May 27 to Aug. 8, including shutout wins at home against Boston and Washington. She played a total of 990 minutes, allowing 15 goals and making 35 saves on 51 shots on goal, with a save percentage of 70% and a 1.36 goals-against average. She made a season-high six saves at Sky Blue on May 27, but in a losing effort as the hosts won, 2-1.

Three times during 2017 Bledsoe captured NWSL Save of the Week honors — Week 9, 12, and 13, stopping Carli Lloyd, Tori Huster, and Brittany Ratcliffe, respectively.

She went on loan to the W-League’s Sydney FC this off-season, making 22 saves and keeping two clean sheets in her five appearances. Her arrival in Australia led to Sydney FC’s rise up the standings from near the league’s basement into solid postseason contention.

“Obviously anytime we trade a player we are sad to lose them, particularly players who have been here since day one, but we chatted with Aubrey in the off-season. We’ve always felt that Aubrey was a starting goalkeeper in this league and we think she could go to D.C. and do that,” Sermanni said in the club release. “We’ll miss Aubrey and thank her for everything she helped us achieve in Orlando, but know that this will be a great opportunity for her career.”

What it Means for Orlando

Bledsoe’s trade value may never be higher than it is right now and Sermanni has cashed in on that to bolster his defense. Unfortunately, the club also parted with a valuable first-round pick, which is good business for Washington. Zadorsky will be worth that price if she can help solidify Orlando’s defense.

If the Pride are going to take the next step, they will need to be more stingy in defense, particularly in the period before Camila returns from her knee injury. Marta, Alex Morgan, and others should still provide plenty of offense, but a stronger central defense will make the Pride better equipped for tight regular-season games like the ones against the Chicago Red Stars last year and more physical playoff matches.

It remains to be seen which of Monica or Ali Krieger will be moved to accommodate Zadorsky. My best guess is that Krieger remains in the middle for now and Monica is the one to move into a different role, but perhaps play in camp will determine that. Yes, the team still needs a top notch right back and it would be logical to assume this trade will be the catalyst to move Krieger back to the right. However, Krieger has been pretty solid at center back overall and I think Sermanni likes what she’s done there. I think we’ll still see a move or two before the season starts — potentially a right back addition or another center back that would allow Krieger to slide to fullback.

One move that the Pride must now make is to find a backup for Harris. Bledsoe provided peace of mind last year as the Pride found their footing after a slow start and started working their way up the table. Once Alex Morgan started clicking and Harris returned, Orlando was the league’s hottest team, but that run began with Bledsoe between the sticks.

The deal also continues the club’s trend of using future draft picks to improve the club now. With Marta, Morgan, Harris, and Krieger all 28 or older, the window for this group of star players to win an NWSL championship in Orlando won’t be open long. All should have a few more years of great soccer in them, but adding pieces to help them win now is important before the inevitable shift to the next generation of Camila, Rachel Hill, and others as they enter their prime years.

From Bledsoe’s perspective, she deserves an opportunity to compete for a starting job in the NWSL and, as long as Harris is with the Pride, that won’t happen here.