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Orlando Pride trades No. 1 pick to Portland Thorns for Emily Sonnett, Caitlin Foord

The acquisition brings the total tally of national team players on the Orlando Pride roster to 11.

2019 NWSL regular season home opener between the Orlando Pride and the Portland Thorns FC at Orlando City Stadium. Portland defeated Orlando 2-0.

The Orlando Pride executed a blockbuster trade with the Portland Thorns on Wednesday, exchanging the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NWSL draft for defender Emily Sonnett and the rights to forward Caitlin Foord along with two first-round picks.

However, there could be a snag in the deal for the Pride as Foord reportedly eyes clubs in Europe. The acquisition of Foord’s rights does not guarantee she will join the Pride roster in the 2020 season. Her contract with the Thorns ended at the conclusion of the 2019 season, so there is not a contract for the Pride to absorb with the trade. Instead, the team will look to negotiate a new contract with Foord; in the meantime, the forward would be free to pursue options in a different league.

The Athletic reported the forward has already received interest and offers from European clubs, including Arsenal. Pride general manager Erik Ustruck pursued the deal regardless of the fact Foord might leave the NWSL. 

Now, his task is to persuade her to stay in America.

“I’ve tried to convince her that this is the highest level, here in the U.S.,” Ustruck told the Athletic’s Meg Linehan. “She’s attracted to the Champions League play, so it was important for her to potentially explore that opportunity. If something falls through, she knows that we retain her rights, and she’s very open to playing here, which is exciting, too. She said, ‘If I do come back to the NWSL, if I chose to stay in the NWSL, I want to play for Orlando.’ Being part of that conversation, being an option for her is important to us.”

Foord has become a young star for the Australian national team, playing in the 2011 FIFA World Cup at the age of 16 and becoming a vital mainstay for the Matildas, tallying 77 caps and 17 goals. She played for two seasons with the Thorns, notching three goals and adding two assists in 2019.

Although Foord’s situation adds a note of uncertainty to the trade, the other half is reliably solid — the Pride have acquired a third international star for its backline. After making her World Cup debut with the U.S. national team in 2019, Sonnett will bring top-tier quality to a Pride backline that allowed 53 goals in the 2019 season. The defender has been with the Thorns for four seasons, making 72 appearances and netting six goals in that time.

Her addition also poses a familiar problem for the team — she joins a defensive unit already manned by her American teammates Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris and Canadian veteran Shelina Zadorsky. If new coach Vlatko Andonovski allocates Sonnett for the USWNT again this season, the Pride defense could lose four of its starting defenders during the Olympics, forcing another season of turnover on the backline.

A similar situation occured in 2018 when her rights were traded to the Thorns by Sky Blue FC, with Foord choosing to sign with Portland. If she signs with Orlando, Foord will join Australian teammates Emily van Egmond and Alanna Kennedy on the Pride roster. As a green card holder, she would not occupy an international spot on the team’s roster.

The heavy load of international players on the Pride roster has always been a battle of balance. Brazilian star Marta led the team in scoring with four goals last season, while Harris notched 58 saves in 13 games in goal. But the team struggled when it lost nine players to the World Cup last season.

Coach Marc Skinner emphasized the trade will still allow the Pride to utilize this year’s NWSL draft, as the club gained the No. 7 and No. 14 picks in the process.

“I’m very excited to be able to acquire Emily, a young, World Cup-winning center back, and the rights to Caitlin, one of Australia’s most promising talents, for the Pride. Adding the No. 7 and No. 14 picks in the draft also, not only gives us two additional assets in the acquisition, but allows us to stay in the draft early on and bolster the roster,” Skinner said. “Emily is a front-footed defender who isn’t afraid to get into the trenches and has loads of potential to become one of the best center backs in the world. Caitlin is versatile, able to play both forward and defender, and can bring another level of quality to support the strikers we already have on our team. We’re very happy to acquire two players who are proven both in the NWSL and with their national teams.”

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