The Orlando Pride announced this morning that the club has re-signed free agent attacking midfielder/forward Marta to a new two-year contract that will keep her in purple through the 2024 NWSL season. The Pride used NWSL Allocation Money to sign the 36-year-old to what will be her seventh and eighth seasons with Orlando.
“I’ve been very happy during my time here in Orlando and I’m excited to continue as part of the Pride for the next two years,” Marta said in a club press release. “The club and community have become my family here in the United States, so it makes me smile knowing I will get to continue as part of that. I’m very excited for the future we are building for the Pride and can’t wait to return to the field next year, play alongside my teammates, and fight for a championship for our fans.”
The Brazilian originally joined the Orlando Pride back in 2017 and re-signed with the club on an Allocation Money deal on Feb. 17, 2021. That was a one-year contract with a club option year and the Pride exercised that option for 2022 last December. Declared a free agent by the NWSL after the 2022 season, the Pride prioritized bringing her back after she lost almost all of this past campaign with a knee injury she sustained in the pre-season NWSL Challenge Cup.
“We are absolutely thrilled to have Marta back with the Pride,” Head Coach Seb Hines said in the club’s press release. “As we looked at building our roster, there was never any question that we wanted to have her continue as part of our project, not only for her abilities on the pitch, but her mentality, values and leadership embody the culture we want in our locker room. We know last season’s injury was a difficult one, but she has been working extremely hard toward her recovery and we know she will have a point to prove when she returns in 2023. We can’t wait for her to add to her historic career here, in Orlando, as a member of the Pride.”
Marta appeared in just two matches during the Challenge Cup, starting both, and playing 121 minutes. After going the distance in the scoreless opening draw against the Washington Spirit, she played 31 minutes in the road loss at North Carolina on March 26 before being forced out with a season-ending knee injury. In her 121 minutes, Marta did not score or assist on a goal, firing four shot attempts with one on target. Her passing was on point, connecting at an 84.9% rate and hit 80% of her long passes. Defensively, she had two clearances and two interceptions. She committed three fouls, getting booked once, and drew three fouls from the opposition.
That was a difficult blow for both the player and the team, as reports out of camp claimed Marta had been in top form. The six-time FIFA World Player of the Year has made 84 appearances in her time in Orlando, scoring a club-best 27 goals and adding 14 assists. Her form dipped each season with the Pride, but that has perhaps had as much to do with the quality of the squad overall as the inevitable incursion of time.
The Mane Land staff gave Marta a rating of 9 out of 10 for her first year with the Pride back in 2017, citing an NWSL MVP-like performance. That rating dropped to a 7 in 2018, a 6.5 in 2019, and a 6 in 2021 (there were no grades given out after the four-game 2020 pandemic season). She did not play enough minutes in 2022 to earn a season-ending score but she did look to have a burst in her legs and a slyness in her play that had been missing.
What It Means for Orlando
What this signing means for the Pride will ultimately be determined by how Marta bounces back from a difficult knee injury and whether she can return to at least her 2018 form. Allocation Money is a valuable commodity in NWSL roster building, so a two-year deal is a big investment in a player who will turn 37 in February and 38 prior to the last year on her contract. There were signs during her last few full seasons that returns on the player the club refers to as “the GOAT” were diminishing. Orlando is banking on that trend not continuing and must be right about this decision.
Even a 37-year-old Marta is better than many players in the league. The Pride have often played her in a more advanced role in recent years, possibly to cut down the distance she travels per game. Although her ability to finish makes it seem like a great idea to have her typically closer to the goal when she gets the ball, forward may not her best position at this stage. She might be better served to function in the way the Pride used Meggie Dougherty Howard and Gunny Jonsdottir at times in 2022 to facilitate the attack from the midfield, where she can best use her uncanny vision and passing ability and be that late runner into the box when players like Ally Watt are distracting the back line.
Even if time is catching up with her body, Marta’s mind is as sharp as ever, and she’ll provide experience, veteran leadership, and a role model to the Pride roster. At worst, she’ll be a two-year veteran mentor who makes plays here and there to help unlock the opposing defense. At best, however, re-signing Marta could provide an elite attacking player the club so desperately needed this past season. Time will tell which one fans see more of over the next two years.
The club still has several players to sign to a new contract. Defenders Celia and Courtney Petersen and midfielder Jordyn Listro hold new contract offers but have not yet signed. Orlando holds their NWSL rights but they could play elsewhere. Marta is the second of the Orlando free agents to re-sign with the Pride after Erika Tymrak inked a new deal on Dec. 9. Meggie Dougherty Howard, and Toni Pressley are the club’s two remaining unsigned free agents. The club, which is still searching for a new senior vice president and general manager, presumably will want to finalize as many of those players that the Pride are planning to have back as soon as possible, with the 2023 NWSL Draft looming on Jan. 12.