The Orlando Pride have signed five-time FIFA World Player of the Year Marta, a major coup for a second-year team with lots of ambition-and for the NWSL, which needed the kind of star-power boost that the dynamic Brazilian will bring to the league.
Marta, 31, joins Orlando on a free transfer from the Swedish club Rosengard, which agreed to terminate her contract. Her new contract with Orlando is for two years with the option for a third.
“As soon as Orlando City decided to bring women’s soccer to the city and acquire an NWSL franchise, the Pride, I thought it was important to have a player with the quality of Marta,” said Alex Leitão, the Brazilian CEO of the Pride and MLS’s Orlando City, who has known Marta’s agent, Fabiano Farah, for many years. “In my opinion, Marta is the greatest player of all time.”
Added Orlando coach Tom Sermanni: “Just bringing Marta into the environment immediately lifts everybody player-wise. From a playing perspective, she’s still a world-class player, as simple as that. To bring her here is a huge statement.”
Marta becomes the second Brazilian former World Player of the Year to come to Orlando, joining Kaká. She has played in the U.S. at the club level before for the Los Angeles Sol, FC Gold Pride and Western New York Flash in the now defunct WPS. Marta's signing with Orlando was first reported by Women's Soccer Weekly.
“I think it’s important for us to try to match the ambition that we have on the men’s side in MLS [with Orlando City, which has the same Brazilian majority owner, Flávio Augusto da Silva] and do so with the Pride,” said general manager Niki Budalic. “Our ownership had a relationship with Marta from their previous work with the national team. This has taken many months, and we’ve jumped through a lot of hoops. She’s the type of player who has a lot of opportunities around the world.”
Marta didn’t want to leave Rosengard until after it was done with its Champions League campaign. The club went out in the quarterfinals last Wednesday against Barcelona.
Marta will make the maximum NWSL salary for foreign players, which is just above $41,000 a year this season. Marta makes far more from endorsements than she will from her playing salary-and the chance to increase those endorsements in the U.S. was part of Orlando’s pitch, said Leitão.
“Salary was not the point,” Leitão said. “That’s why it took a long time in conversations. It’s more about explaining the level of the league, where we are right now and her role to develop not only our franchise in its second year, but also the league itself. She loves America as well. She wants to come and live here, and she was in the moment of her career where she can choose where to go and what type of life she wants to have.
“It’s also my guess that her sponsors would be much happier with her being in the U.S. in a market of this size than with all respect, in Sweden. Those are the arguments I was showing them. I can’t give this to you, but I’m giving you a big market to go after.”
In that respect, Leitão said it was a similar negotiation to the one that he had with Kaká before he signed with Orlando City.
Marta will be available for the entirety of the NWSL season, which starts for Orlando on April 15 at the Portland Thorns. Fellow superstar Alex Morgan is set to rejoin the Pride at the start of June after the end of her short-term contract with Lyon in France.
“Even psychologically, when opponents see those two players on the team sheet, immediately it puts a little bit of fear in them hopefully,” said Sermanni. “Having those two players gives us some huge attacking weapons.”
Other U.S. national team players with Orlando include Ali Krieger and Ashlyn HarrisMarta's former teammates at Swedish club Tyreso.
The NWSL had taken a star-power hit when Crystal Dunn made a full transfer to Chelsea and Heather O'Reilly did the same with Arsenal, while Morgan and Carli Lloyd (Manchester City) signed short-term deals in Europe that won’t have them rejoin the NWSL until June. But signing Marta is a step in the right direction for the league.
“This hopefully will start reversing that trend and maybe attract other big players to come into the league,” Sermanni said.