The Orlando Pride took care of another piece of post-season business before the 2023 NWSL campaign even gets underway. The club and midfielder Mikayla Cluff have agreed to a new three-year contract that will keep her in the City Beautiful through the 2025 season. The No. 14 overall pick in the 2021 NWSL Draft was already under contract through the upcoming season, but this new deal allows the Pride to extend her deal for a couple more seasons.
“Kayla had a strong rookie season for us last year and we are so excited to be able to keep her here with the Pride for the foreseeable future,” Orlando Pride Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Haley Carter said in a club press release. “She is a versatile attacker with an eye for goal, she’s not afraid to take on defenders directly, and she can use her vision to create plays from midfield. We are thrilled for her as she plays a vital role in our organization and we look forward to her continued development as a player and person here in Orlando.”
“I think there’s something really special forming in Orlando and it’s just the beginning. I was super excited when the opportunity came for me to stick around a bit longer and be a part of this club,” said Cluff in the Pride’s release. “Our goal is to bring Orlando the NWSL championship, and I will work my very hardest every day to make that happen!”
The Pride selected Cluff (nee Colohan) in the second round of the 2021 NWSL Draft out of BYU after picking Viviana Villacorta in the first round. The midfielder opted to return to her college team for the 2021 spring season after the draft. She signed her first pro contract — a two-year deal — with the Pride on Jan. 26 of last year.
Cluff received her first minutes with the Pride in the 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup, debuting March 19 of that year against Washington. She appeared in all six of Orlando’s matches in the Challenge Cup (five starts), logging 355 minutes. She did not score a goal or assist on one in the competition, attempting just one unblocked shot, which was off target. She passed at a 77.5% rate and was 69.9% accurate in the attacking half, providing five key passes. Defensively, Cluff chipped in five interceptions, three clearances, and a block, winning eight of 13 (61.5%) of her tackles but just 41.5% of her 65 duels. She was better in the air, winning five of nine (55.6%) of her aerial duels. She committed 11 fouls, won two, and was not booked.
In the regular season, the native of Layton, UT appeared in 18 of the Pride’s 22 matches but started only eight, playing 930 minutes and going the full 90 in five of her eight starts. She tied for second on the team in goals (2) on 11 unblocked shot attempts (17 total attempts), putting five on target. She did not record an assist despite producing 12 key passes, and she was successful on one of her two open-play crosses. Cluff passed at an 83.1% success rate, completed 12 of 24 (50%) long balls, and was a solid 78.8% passing in the opponent’s half. Defensively, Cluff recorded 18 interceptions, 12 clearances, and one block. She won 63.3% of her tackle attempts but just 44.4% of her 162 duels and 47.5% of 40 aerial duels. In terms of discipline, Cluff won 16 fouls while committing 20 and picked up two yellow cards on the year.
The Mane Land staff gave Cluff a rating of 5.5 out of 10 for her rookie season. While she was solid overall, the staff would have like to have seen more from her in terms of jumping into the attack when there were opportunities to do so, and a bit more willingness to shoot instead of forcing a pass into traffic.
During her time at BYU, Cluff racked up 53 goals in 93 appearances (all starts). She was a three-time United Soccer Coaches All-American first team selection, was named WCC Player of the Year three times, and earned WCC Player of the Year honors four times. She was a finalist for the 2021 MAC Hermann Trophy.
At the international level, Cluff has attended United States training camps at the U-17 and U-23 levels in 2016 and 2022, respectively.
What It Means for Orlando
Orlando continues to commit to building around its young talent. The Pride value Cluff and are banking on her making the most of her considerable upside. This new agreement eliminates the need to negotiate a new deal after the 2023 season and demonstrates Orlando’s belief in her as a player. That kind of commitment from the club can only be a good thing.
Cluff has good instincts and vision in picking out passes that can create transition opportunities. She showed her offensive abilities more in college than she has so far at the professional level, although she’s being asked to play a bit of a different role. She should have the freedom in Seb Hines’ system to get into the attack more in 2023 and become a late-arriving threat in the box. That will be a valuable addition to her game with the ability she showed during her time at BYU to finish her chances.