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Orlando Pride Acquire Defender Emily Sonnett from the Portland Thorns

Pride send the No. 1 overall pick to Portland for the USWNT defender, the rights to Caitlin Foord, and two picks.

Soccer: U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Victory Tour-Portugal at USA Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Orlando Pride have traded the No. 1 pick in next week’s 2020 NWSL College Draft to the Portland Thorns in exchange for USWNT defender Emily Sonnett, the rights to Australian international forward Caitlin Foord, and two picks in the 2020 NWSL College Draft (No. 7 in Round 1 and No. 14 overall in Round 2) from Portland Thorns FC.

Sonnett was, ironically, selected by Portland with Orlando’s first ever draft spot in 2016. The Thorns picked the former Virginia Cavalier No. 1 in the 2016 NWSL College Draft using a draft pick that the Pride traded to Portland in exchange for Alex Morgan and Kaylyn Kyle. Orlando also sent an international slot to Portland for 2016 and 2017 in that trade.

“Acquiring not only one, but two players with the domestic and international resumes of Emily and Caitlin, plus additional draft picks for 2020, puts the club in a strong position to continue building for both short and long-term success,” Orlando Pride GM Erik Ustruck said in a club press release. “Emily and Caitlin are two players we have targeted for a while and we are incredibly happy to come to terms on this deal.”

Sonnett, 26, is a 5-foot-7 native of Marietta, GA, who has 40 caps with the United States Women’s National Team. She was on the 2019 side that won the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France. She has spent the last four seasons with the Thorns, scoring eight goals in 78 appearances (regular season plus playoffs). She scored a goal in the 2017 NWSL semifinal match-up against the Pride at Providence Park. She has won the NWSL Shield and the 2017 NWSL championship with Portland.

With Virginia, Sonnett was named the 2015 espnW Soccer Player of the Year, 2015 ACC Defensive Player of the Year, NSCAA First Team All-American, 2014 College Cup Most Outstanding Defensive Player, First Team All-ACC, and was a finalist for the 2015 MAC Hermann Trophy.

Foord, 25, was a player that Tom Sermanni tried unsuccessfully to bring to Orlando several years ago. She has 17 international goals in 77 appearances with Australia, and has made 26 appearances across all competitions since joining the Thorns in 2018, scoring three goals and adding two assists with the Thorns. Foord has also played 46 games with Sky Blue FC and has extensive experience in the W-League in Australia.

“I’m very excited to be able to acquire Emily, a young, World Cup-winning center back, and the rights to Caitlin, one of Australia’s most promising talents, for the Pride,” Orlando Pride Head Coach Marc Skinner said in the release. “Adding the No. 7 and No. 14 picks in the draft also, not only gives us two additional assets in the acquisition, but allows us to stay in the draft early on and bolster the roster. Emily is a front-footed defender who isn’t afraid to get into the trenches and has loads of potential to become one of the best center backs in the world. Caitlin is versatile, able to play both forward and defender, and can bring another level of quality to support the strikers we already have on our team. We’re very happy to acquire two players who are proven both in the NWSL and with their national teams.”

Orlando now has six selections in the 2020 NWSL College Draft. The Pride will pick No. 7, No. 10, No. 14, No. 19, No. 21 and No. 30 overall.

What it Means for Orlando

The Pride have a complete roster at the moment but that roster had an awful 2019 season and a good chunk of it will likely miss more than a month of the 2020 season at the Olympics. In addition, Morgan’s pregnancy will have her out of NWSL action until at least the Olympics. So, there are some holes to fill.

Orlando will attempt to fill those holes and provide Marc Skinner with the right players to fit his system. Whether this deal will accomplish that or not will unfold over time.

On the other hand, the Pride have not had many first-round selections in their five NWSL drafts and no high ones. Sam Witteman was Orlando’s pick in 2016 and that came at the end of the first round. The club hasn’t had a first-round pick since then and it has missed some opportunities to get good young talent via the league’s easiest mechanism available for player acquisition.

A look at the No. 1 overall picks in the Pride’s existence working backward and you’ll see Tierna Davidson, Andi Sullivan, Rose Lavelle, and Sonnett herself. This is a spot where you can get an extremely useful player. The Pride have not utilized the draft to improve and have been in a position to draft high in three of the five drafts — four, if you count 2016, which I do not, because that pick was used to bring Morgan and Kyle to Orlando. It seemed a good deal at the time, but now Portland has essentially traded that pick back to the Pride by sending Sonnett to Orlando.

No. 7 isn’t terribly high, and this draft has been categorized by many as weaker than some others in recent years, but Orlando could potentially find someone useful in that spot. The Pride will have to do well with it to maximize this deal.

Even the second overall selections in those drafts were strong players: Raquel Rodriguez, Ashley Hatch, Savannah McCaskill, and Hailie Mace. Picking high is a good thing and Orlando hasn’t gotten anywhere doing things the other way around (so far), though arguably it did help the team reach the postseason in 2017. That’s only one out of four seasons and the other three have been extremely disappointing given the names on the roster.

Another thing this trade does is give the Pride at least one more international player — and possibly two — who will be gone in Olympic and World Cup years. The team is already decimated every time there’s an international event and the depth has not been good enough to compete with the rest of the league. Sonnett will be an allocated player by the federation, so at least there’s some monetary relief in regard to her salary. Foord will need to be paid but at least she holds her green card and will not require an international slot.

With Foord and Emslie in the fold, what does that mean for Rachel Hill? Will she become a super sub type? Will she (or Emslie) be moved via trade? The Pride definitely needed more bite in the attack and Foord seems capable of that but has not yet been what you’d call prolific.

All in all, it might take a few years to fully analyze this trade. For me, it’s vital to sign Foord if this trade is going to end up being a good one for the Pride. Provided the club comes to terms with Foord and drafts wisely, this could be a major trade in club history that resonates for years to come. I doubt the Pride are done dealing, though.