ORLANDO, Fla. (July 3, 2023) — The Orlando Pride has signed Brazilian defender Rafaelle Souza to a contract through the 2025 season, it was announced today. Rafaelle returns to the National Women’s Soccer League after two seasons at Arsenal, with Allocation Money used in the signing.
Along with fellow Pride players Marta and Adriana, Rafaelle was named to Brazil’s 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup roster on Tuesday and will join the Pride following Brazil’s run in the tournament.
“Rafa and I were teammates in Houston and since then, I have watched her grow into one of the best defenders in the world. She is an incredibly intelligent player with the physicality and technical ability to make an immediate impact in our backline,” said Orlando Pride VP of Soccer Operations and General Manager Haley Carter. “Her leadership, on and off the pitch, also offers a major competitive advantage for the Club. We could not be more thrilled to bring her experience, quality, and infectious, hardworking attitude to Orlando.”
“Anyone dreams of living in a city like Orlando and playing in a league as strong as the NWSL. With my experience of having played in other leagues and other countries, for everything I've experienced in soccer, I think I can add a lot to the team,” Rafaelle said. “I dedicate myself a lot and I think fans will see that, my dedication every day and every game. I really hope and want to help the team a lot, be with the girls and join the group and adapt as soon as possible. My main goal now is to help the team qualify for the playoffs. Orlando deserves it for all the investment it has made and for all of their support for women's soccer.”
Prior to selecting Orlando, Rafaelle played for English powerhouse Arsenal, joining the side in January 2022. Over her time with the Gunners, Rafaelle totaled 35 appearances and four goals, playing center back primarily, and led the club to the Conti Cup title in March 2023. In that match, Rafaelle was crucial to Arsenal’s insurance goal, with her aerial prowess causing an own goal for the 3-1 final.
Before England, Rafaelle had a stint in her home country with Palmeiras - winning the 2021 Copa Paulista - and played with Chinese side Changchun Zhuoyue. The 32-year-old's professional career began in the NWSL in 2014 as part of the Houston Dash, where she made 16 appearances with one assist in the team’s expansion year.
Internationally, she made her debut for Brazil’s senior national team in December 2011. Since then, she has been named to two Women’s World Cup rosters (2015 and 2023) and two Olympic rosters (2016 and 2020).
During the 2022 calendar year, Rafaelle was named Brazil’s captain, leading her country to the 2022 Copa América Femenina title. The win marked her second Copa América Femenina championship, the country also winning in 2018. With Brazil, Rafaelle won a gold medal at the 2015 Pan American Games and finished as runner-up in the 2021 SheBelieves Cup that was hosted in Orlando at Exploria Stadium.
Prior to turning pro, Rafaelle played three years in the United States at the University of Mississippi, currently ranking second in school history in career points (108) and goals (44), as well as single-season points (33) and goals (22). Following her time with the Rebels, Souza was selected No. 10 overall by the Houston Dash in the 2014 NWSL Draft.
With the signing, Rafaelle becomes the fourth Brazilian player on the Pride roster, joining countrywomen Marta, Adriana and Thais Reiss.
TRANSACTION: Orlando Pride signs defender Rafaelle Souza on a three-year contract through the 2025 season, with Allocation Money used in the signing.
Rafaelle Souza (ha-fa-ELLIE SOH-zuh)
Born: June 18, 1991 in Cipo, Bahia, Brazil
Hometown: Cipo, Bahia, Brazil