July 3rd was a marquee day for the Orlando Pride, as they announced the signing of Brazilian National Team defender Rafaelle Souza to a contract through the 2025 season.
It was one of the first big signings of the season for the Pride, who have been slowly and methodically building through the core of talented young players they have been acquiring over the past two years.
For Orlando General Manager Haley Carter, the signing of Rafa, much like the building of the Pride roster, has been a process.
Back in 2014, when Carter was still playing in NWSL for the Houston Dash, the Brazilian was drafted in the second round by the Dash out of Ole Miss University, where she played her college soccer. While Rafa only played in that one season with the NWSL side, Carter has continued to keep tabs on her career, watching her become a standout player.
"She's coachable," Carter told Orlando-Pride.com." I honestly think that that's what's contributed to her success over the last six or seven years is her ability to learn different positions and to read the game, learn the game, be coached and be willing to step out of her comfort zone so that she could develop in a different position.
"I think that's why when I say over the last several years, seeing her grow into one of the best defenders in the world, it's because she has been willing to put herself in uncomfortable positions where she is going to be challenged to get better and to improve. Being able to bring a player in like that, who has taken the last six or seven years and really grown is going to be great for us."
For Pride Head Coach Seb Hines, a player like Rafa joining Orlando shows the buy-in from the Club and the willingness to invest in top-quality players.
"I think it shows that we're here to compete at the highest level," he said, "We're excited to have her here. She brings a lot of good qualities and good leadership. She's coming off playing Champions League football with Arsenal, as well as playing in the Women's Super League in England. She's excited to be here and contribute to the team and hopefully pushes us over that line that we're all looking for."
Already having a Brazilian contingent here in Orlando, with Marta and Adriana playing key roles within the squad, will make the transition into the squad that much more seamless.
"We always talk about building relationships and they've already got it, and you'll see that in the World Cup," Hines said. "That plays an element of that, I think that does help. Brazilian football, they wear their heart on their sleeve, they're wanting to compete, they want to battle, they leave everything on the field and they just go out and enjoy football. They love football. It's part of their DNA, and that's how it should be. You see them they play with a lot of freedom, a lot of personality, a lot of character and from a fan's perspective that's great to watch and learn from."
From her time at Arsenal to the Brazilian National Team, where she is currently getting set to play in Australia and New Zealand for the Women's World Cup, Rafa's leadership qualities have been at the forefront of her play. Earning the captain's armband for Brazil last year, she has become a figurehead both on and off the field for her national team. A trait that the Pride hope can translate back in Orlando when she joins the team.
"What she brings from a leadership and experience standpoint, and from a work ethic standpoint, it's infectious," Carter said, "We talk about it all the time, leading by example here, and it's your deeds and your actions that matter. To bring her in, somebody who also is aligned with that and very much believes in leading by example and putting in the work and showing up every single day and setting the standard, that will imbue itself on all of the other athletes that are around her.
"It's like having Marta around. That energy and that focus is infectious and Rafa brings that out of people. It's just one more piece for us to add that helps us balance out youth and experience so that we can continue to develop the youth, while giving the more experienced players the opportunity to lead. I think that's equally important."