It's only been a few days into her tenure in the City Beautiful, but one of the newest members of the Orlando Pride is already feeling right at home.
Defender Rafaelle Souza signed to the team just as she was heading to Australia and New Zealand for the World Cup with Brazil, joining through the 2025 season. It's the centerback's first time living in Orlando, but already it has started to feel like home to her.
"I love Orlando for everything like the Brazilian community, I feel like home here and like going back to the US and here in such a great city with a great club,” she told Orlando-Pride.com. "Orlando feels like home and I want to be closer to my family, closer to the Brazilian community."
That sense of community has been one of the driving forces to bring the Brazilian captain to Orlando, with a huge Brazilian population both off the field and on it, with three of her fellow Brazilians on the team.
"I was happy when I was in the US before, so I want to find that happiness again."
Rafaelle had a brief time in NWSL back in the league's early days, when she was drafted by the Houston Dash in 2013 out of Ole Miss University, joining a team that also had current Pride GM Haley Carter as their backup goalkeeper. The defender only spent a season with the Dash, opting to head to Brazil and then to China to play for a number of years.
Now almost 10 years later, she felt like it was the right time to come back to the league.
"I think the league has changed a lot," she said. "When I got into NWSL after the draft, I didn't really like the league. That's why I only played a few months and left, but now with all the improvements and investments, I think it's the best time to be here."
Rafaelle joins a young Pride team in search of a playoff berth, something that has eluded them since 2017. As a veteran player and leader, having captained Brazil in their last two major tournaments, she seems to be the right player at the right time for this team.
"I feel like it's a big responsibility to help the team to build up, especially in the young players," she said. "I know Marta, she's a great player and she has been doing this role here and I'm really happy with everything they've achieved. But I know it's a big opportunity for me to help the team, and I'm gonna step up and try to do my best for the team and the young players."
As she works her way into the team, she brings yet another Brazilian flair to the lineup, with the legend Marta holding down the middle of the field, and Adriana working her magic on the wings. Rafaelle hopes that "Joga Bonito" style of play will show up in her play with the Pride.
"I think fans can expect a lot of happy, fun football," she said. "I'm a defender and I have to be serious sometimes, but I like to have the ball, I like to build up from behind and I like the skill, the Brazilian football, so even from the back, I'm gonna show my football, show my passion for the sport and I want to help the team as much as possible."