“Haley is one of the brightest young talents in the world and we are absolutely thrilled to have her join our club,” Pride General Manager Ian Fleming said in a club press release. “She has already shown her quality at a high level in Italy and at the international level with Malta, and she is still just scratching the surface of the player that she can become. She is a constant threat to opposing defenses and will be a valuable addition to our group, both in the immediate and moving into the future, as we continue to build and bolster our roster. We are all very excited to see her in Orlando, as a member of our Pride, very soon.”
Prior to moving to Serie A, Bugeja played for Mgarr United FC in her native country. Quickly becoming one of the best players in Malta, Bugeja scored 23 goals in the 2019-2020 season, her final year before moving to Italy.
Bugeja made her Serie A debut at the age of 16, netting a brace in her first game against Napoli and finished the year with 12 goals. Her first season saw the forward finish in the top five in scoring for Serie A and she was named the Best Young Player in Serie A for the 2020-2021 season. In total, Bugeja scored a total of 15 goals in 36 games for Sassuolo before suffering an injury that required a five-month recovery. She returned to action in October.
Internationally, Bugeja has represented Malta 14 times at the senior level and was recently involved in her national team’s UEFA European qualifying campaign. She made her international debut in 2019 at 14 years of age and scored her first goal for her country the following year against Turkey.
The teenager has been one of the top European players to watch since making her debut two years ago. She was listed number three on GOAL.com’s “NXGN 2022: The 20 Best Wonderkids in Women’s Football” — her second straight year on that list — and was number 15 on ESPN’s 21 Best Women’s Players 21 or Under.
What It Means for Orlando
The Pride have seen a lot more subtraction than addition to the team over the past year. During this past off-season, the team traded forwards Jodie Taylor, Alex Morgan, and Taylor Kornieck. Sydney Leroux was traded last week to Angel City, causing further depletion in the attack.
Since the Pride are rebuilding, they’re more likely to acquire younger players who have a future with the club. At 18 years old, Bugeja is the type of signing that you would expect. While the signing is only for a year and a half, the forward has recently recovered from a serious injury so the club can extend the contract if she performs as she did earlier in her career.
Adding a forward who can score will help the Pride as they continue through this season. The two top scorers on the team are Darian Jenkins and Gunny Jonsdottir, with three goals each. However, Jonsdottir is naturally a defensive midfielder who’s been pushed forward to help out with the attack. In addition to Jenkins, Leroux and Leah Pruitt are the only two forwards to have scored this season, with Leroux scoring twice and Pruitt once.
Bugeja is expected to be available for the Pride during the next month. She’ll be competing for time with current forwards Pruitt, Julie Doyle, and Abi Kim for playing time.
Here are some highlights of what Bugeja can provide: