On Jan. 8, 2020, the Orlando Pride made a trade that would impact multiple iterations of the team over the years since. The Pride ended the 2019 NWSL season with a record of 4-16-4 (W-L-D) and 16 points, the worst in the league. As a result, they were awarded the first overall pick in the 2020 NWSL Draft.
The clear-cut best player available in the draft was Stanford forward Sophia Smith. However, the sophomore had clear preferences on which teams she was willing to play for and delayed her decision to declare for the draft until the Portland Thorns traded up. The Pride got a haul for the right to draft the teenager, who turned out to be a superstar in the league and in the international game.
In return for the first overall pick in the 2020 NWSL Draft, Orlando received Emily Sonnett, the rights to Australian international Caitlin Foord, and the seventh and 14th picks in the 2020 NWSL Draft. The Pride have flipped every one of those assets in the time since — some with positive results and others with less success.
Let’s take a look at how each of those moves have turned out.
Without question, the biggest asset received in the trade was Sonnett. The USWNT international was in her prime and had been with the Thorns since 2016. Despite spending on big names since joining the league, the Pride had little success and Sonnett was a player they could build around. However, she would never get a chance to play in Orlando, as the 2020 season was canceled due to the global pandemic, she was sent on loan to Sweden, and the club traded her at the end of the year.
The deal that saw Sonnett depart the Pride came on Dec. 24, 2020. In return for the midfielder/defender, the Washington Spirit sent Meggie Dougherty Howard, the ninth pick in the 2021 NWSL Draft, a future first-round pick, and $140,000 in Allocation Money. The Pride used the ninth pick on UCLA midfielder Viviana Villacorta, who is still with the team today. The conditional pick ended up being the second overall pick in 2023, which was traded to NJ/NY Gotham FC for $350,000 in Allocation Money and Gotham’s fourth-round pick in 2024. The Pride recently used that selection on UCF midfielder Talia Gabarra, who has yet to sign and may be a longshot to make the roster. After the Pride parted with the pick, Gotham dealt it to the Kansas City Current. In return, the Current sent USWNT forward Lynn Williams to New Jersey. They then used the selection on Duke forward Michelle Cooper.
Dougherty Howard was a key player for the Pride for two seasons. She played a total of 44 games (33 starts) in purple and recorded 2,747 minutes, adding three goals and five assists. She brought leadership to a team going through a complete rebuild, something the team needed at the time. Her time with the Pride ended after the 2022 season when she signed as a free agent with San Diego Wave FC.
The Rights to Caitlin Foord
The second player involved in the deal never played for the Pride. Foord moved to the NWSL in 2018, joining the Thorns from Sydney FC. After the Pride acquired her in the Jan. 8 trade, she signed with Arsenal of England’s Women’s Super League. She still plays for the London team today.
This situation is simpler than the others in this trade, as there was only one subsequent move. Racing Louisville FC joined the NWSL for the 2021 season and the league held an Expansion Draft on Nov. 12, 2020. The new club could take up to two players from each team and had already selected Pride defender Alanna Kennedy with the sixth selection. Louisville took Foord’s NWSL rights with its ninth pick of the draft, ensuring the Pride wouldn’t lose any more players. Since Foord hasn’t returned to the NWSL and is unlikely to, the Pride didn’t lose anything in that part of the trade.
Seventh Pick in the 2020 NWSL Draft
The first draft pick acquired in the trade for Smith was Portland’s natural first-round pick, seventh overall. The Pride used that pick on Virginia defender Courtney Petersen. It didn’t take long for Petersen to become a key member of the Pride. She lost the 2020 season to the pandemic, but was the starting left back in 2021. She played in 22 of the team’s 24 league games, starting 21 and recording 1,877 minutes. She scored one goal and added two assists.
Unfortunately, Petersen lost her starting spot in 2022 to Kylie Strom, the Pride’s current starting left back. She still played in 19 games, with nine starts, and logged 1,011 minutes of action. That was the final season for Petersen in Orlando as she was traded along with the team’s 2024 third-round pick on Feb. 1, 2023 to the Houston Dash for $65,000 in Allocation Money. That pick turned out to be the 36th overall and was used on Pittsburgh forward Amanda West.
14th Pick in the 2020 NWSL Draft
The Pride used the 14th pick of the 2020 NWSL Draft on Virginia center back Phoebe McClernon. It appeared as though the defender would be a cornerstone for the Pride’s rebuild, immediately becoming a regular starter. She played 25 games in 2021, with 19 starts, and recorded 1,776 minutes in all competitions. However, her time in Orlando ended up being short-lived.
On Dec. 18, 2021, OL Reign offered the Pride a deal they couldn’t refuse. In exchange for the young defender, the Pride got the 10th pick of the 2022 NWSL Draft, the Reign’s second-round pick in the 2023 NWSL Draft, forward Leah Pruitt, and Spanish right back Celia.
The Pride used the 2022 pick on Duke center back Caitlin Cosme and signed her to a two-year deal. A preseason and late season injury saw Cosme’s time limited in 2022. She was on the bench for seven consecutive games in July and August before landing back on the injured list. Finally healthy heading into 2023, Cosme began the year at starting center back beside 2023 first-round pick Emily Madril. She started the first four league games before being relegated to the bench once again. Additionally, she made two Challenge Cup starts, but the club decided not to renew her contract after the 2023 season.
The second-round pick was much more useful, because the club flipped it for a key player in the lineup. Combining the pick with $75,000 in Allocation Money, the Pride traded for Dash defender/midfielder Haley McCutcheon (nee Hanson) on Oct. 18, 2022. She immediately became a starter in the defensive midfield, finishing the 2022 season with six appearances, four starts, and 373 minutes. Last year, Pride Head Coach Seb Hines moved her to right back, where she started all 22 regular-season games, playing 1,955 minutes.
McCutcheon was clearly the most valuable player acquired in the McClernon trade, but the Pride also got two other veterans. Pruitt played in 13 games (nine starts) in 2022 for 749 minutes and recorded a goal and an assist before retiring on April 6, 2023. Celia was a regular starter at right back in 2022, playing in 18 games (17 starts) and recording 1,287 minutes. McCutcheon’s move to right back saw Celia’s time limited, as the Spaniard appeared in only eight games with one start in 2023 and logged just 193 minutes.
How did the trade work out for the Pride?
The Pride ended up getting a decent haul for trading the number one pick in 2020, especially since Smith didn’t want to play in Orlando. They ended up with two starters in Villacorta and McCutcheon, as well as a backup right back in Celia. It would’ve been better if they had more success with the 10th pick in 2022, but Cosme didn’t work out and is no longer with the team.
Even though Orlando lost Dougherty Howard to free agency, her leadership helped the young players develop into what they’ve become today. The team also ended up with a net gain of $480,000 in Allocation Money after all of the transactions related to the original trade. It’s unknown how exactly they’ve used the funds, but it’s gone towards building the veteran base of the team like acquiring Adriana and Rafaelle while re-signing Marta.
The biggest problem with this trade is what Smith ended up becoming. If she was a bust or left for Europe soon after arriving, the Pride would’ve been the winners. Instead, the striker won the 2020 Fall Series, 2021 NWSL Shield and Challenge Cup, and the 2022 NWSL Championship. Individually, she was named the 2022 NWSL MVP and U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year. Orlando did not net a star player, but got multiple useful players who contributed over the last few years.
After all the wheeling and dealing, here’s what the Pride received for shipping the number one pick in 2020 off to Portland.
- Three seasons of Courtney Petersen
- Two seasons of Meggie Dougherty Howard
- One season of Phoebe McClernon
- One season of Caitlin Cosme
- One season of Leah Pruitt
- Celia (still with the team)
- Haley McCutcheon (still with the team)
- Viviana Villacorta (still with the team)
- Talia Gabarra (currently unsigned)
- The rights to Caitlin Foord (lost to Racing Louisville in the 2020 Expansion Draft)
- $550,000 of Allocation Money
Meanwhile, the club gave up $75,000 in Allocation Money and a second-round pick in the 2023 NWSL Draft along the way.
Note: Michael Citro assisted with research for this story.