The Orlando Pride signed 18-year-old striker Haley Bugeja on July 1 to a two-year contract lasting through the 2023 NWSL season. The teenager is one of the most coveted young players in the world and was a breakout star last year in Italy’s Serie A with US Sassuolo.
Despite fans clamoring to see the striker in action, the club took its time. Bugeja didn’t make her first appearance on the bench until Aug. 13 and she made her debut for the club on Sept. 21. The Pride lacked striker production this season but Bugeja didn’t get onto the field until the final three games.
Let’s take a look at Bugeja’s season in review.
The Malta international only made three appearances off the bench for the Pride, which came in the final three games of the season. She played a total of 71 minutes but failed to record any goals, shots or assists. She completed 19 of her 26 passes (73.1%) in her three games, including five key passes. The teenager made her debut on Sept. 21, coming on for Leah Pruitt against the North Carolina Courage, playing 19 minutes. She came on for Thais Reiss in the second game against San Diego Wave FC to play 28 minutes and for Darian Jenkins in the season finale against OL Reign, playing 25 minutes.
Bugeja’s most impactful game was in her second appearance against San Diego. Six minutes after coming on, Bugeja made a good diagonal run through the Wave defense. Meggie Dougherty Howard found the striker and Bugeja’s speed allowed her to catch up to the ball before it went out of play. Doing well to shield the defender, Bugeja found Courtney Petersen, whose cross was headed in by Gunny Jonsdottir to give the Pride a 2-0 lead.
The Pride ended up conceding a pair of late goals and only got a point out of the game. But it was the only goal that Bugeja was involved in during her three appearances this season and showed what the young player has to offer. In MLS, she would’ve had her first secondary assist, but she was just a part of the buildup in the NWSL.
2022 Final Grade
Due to playing less than the required 360 minutes for a grade, Bugeja receives an incomplete rating for the season. However, fans got a glimpse of a player expected to be a key part of the Pride moving forward. She didn’t score any goals, but she showed what she has to offer in limited time and will likely be seen much more often during next season.
Interim Head Coach Seb Hines said that the club wanted to bring Bugeja along slowly and not rush her development. The Pride were able to get her out on the field a bit at the end of the season and she did well with her limited minutes, especially given the lack of offensive production this season on the team. Fans can expect Bugeja to see significantly more minutes next year, as long as she continues to develop. However, she’s still young so I wouldn’t expect her to compete for the golden boot or anything in the near future.