According to a report by the Washington City Paper’s Kelyn Soong, the Orlando Pride are in the process of trading USWNT defender Emily Sonnett to the Washington Spirit for the No. 9 pick in January’s 2021 NWSL Draft, the Spirit’s 2023 first-round pick, midfielder Meggie Dougherty Howard, and allocation money. Soong’s story cites an unnamed source with knowledge of the trade. Neither the Pride, nor the Spirit, have officially announced the trade as of this writing.
Sonnett, who was acquired from the Portland Thorns on Jan. 8 in exchange for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft (Sophia Smith), hasn’t played a game for the Pride due to the pandemic (although she has trained with Orlando) and the exodus of top NWSL players to Europe to get games in 2020. Acquiring Sonnett in January appeared to be part of the Pride’s rebuild after an awful 2019 campaign. Per the club’s press release:
“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.”
Orlando also received the rights to Caitlin Foord — which were subsequently snatched by Racing Louisville in the NWSL Expansion Draft — and the Nos. 7 and 14 picks in 2020. The Pride selected Courtney Petersen and Phoebe McClernon, respectively, with those picks. Neither has played for the Pride yet and McClernon is unsigned as of this writing, although her NWSL rights are retained by Orlando, so that could change.
Sonnett went to play in Sweden on a short-term deal after the Pride pulled out of the NWSL Challenge Cup, appearing in 10 matches (eight starts) and helping Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC win a league championship. Prior to her acquisition, Sonnett played 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.
She 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.
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.
The 5-foot-7 native of Marietta, GA, has 46 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.
Howard, 25, is a native of Largo, FL, over in the Tampa Bay area. She attended St. Petersburg Catholic High School and played college soccer at the University of Florida. Howard appeared in 94 matches from 2013 to 2016 and scored 14 goals for the Gators as a defensive midfielder, earning 2016 All American, 2016 All-SEC First Team, and 2016 All-SEC Tournament MVP honors. While in college, she won a title playing with the Washington Spirit Reserves in the W-League and made that league’s all-star team in 2015.
Washington selected Howard with the 29th overall pick in the 2017 NWSL College Draft. She made her Spirit debut against the Pride, coincidentally, coming on as a sub on April 22, 2017 in a 1-1 draw. That was the Pride’s first match at what is now known as Exploria Stadium. Howard has scored one career NWSL goal and registered one assist in 68 appearances with Washington, playing 5,436 minutes since entering the league.
What it Means for Orlando
Sonnett, 27, was going to be part of the solution for a back line that made a lot of mistakes in 2019 and leaked a lot of goals. She’s versatile and can play both central defense or fullback. The Pride have struggled to find solid starting fullbacks in the past and presumed starting center backs Ali Krieger and Shelina Zadorsky are 36 and 28 years old, respectively. So Sonnett’s presence would certainly help the Pride if this trade doesn’t come to pass.
If the trade happens as reported, the Pride will get back into the first round in the 2021 NWSL Draft after trading their natural first selection in January to move up and select Taylor Kornieck at No. 3 overall. Orlando would also have a second first-round pick in 2023, which is never a bad asset to have. The unknown is the amount of allocation money that Orlando would reportedly receive, which could be used to great effect.
Orlando will also benefit from having a player who can be a true No. 6 in Howard, who will be coming home to Florida. Jason Anderson, who covers the Spirit for Black and Red United, said this of her:
“MDH is a really solid DM. she can play the 6 or the 8. Good long-range passer, good vision, really tough tackler. Led the team in key passes her rookie year playing as an 8. Probably should have been Rookie of the Year but lost out to (Ashley) Hatch due to Hatch getting to score goals for North Carolina. for the Spirit her problem was going to be that with (Andi) Sullivan around, she can’t play her best spot as a 6, and they’ve got (Bayley) Feist and (Dorian) Bailey looking for time, and most likely (Tori) Huster too if they change formations like I think they’re going to. She’s a good kid, very interested in helping out the Spirit’s off-field causes, and also on her own (she made like 60 masks for a local children’s hospital during the early lockdown days).”
As for the rest of this reported trade, the true ramifications won’t be known for some time and are complicated because this ultimately involves Smith’s NWSL career and potentially the future of Foord, should she return to the NWSL — because that’s what Orlando gave up to get Sonnett to begin with. The future draft picks are also important to how this trade is ultimately viewed, as is the way the Pride use any allocation money that comes to Orlando in the deal.
With so many moving pieces, it will ultimately be difficult to look back and get a clear view of how to evaluate this trade from the Pride’s perspective. It hurts to lose a valuable player like Sonnett. But the Pride have a long way to go to become contenders again and this trade, if it goes down as reported, could help with that in the future.