Marta: How Orlando landed another Brazilian soccer superstar

A collective sigh of relief came from the Orlando City Soccer Club offices Friday when the signed contract came through.

Marta Vieira da Silva, more commonly known simply as Marta – Brazilian national team soccer superstar and five-time FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year — officially was heading to Orlando to play for the Pride

“It was a unique opportunity to get, in my opinion, the best player ever to have played the game. But of course, it’s not a simple and easy process,” Orlando City CEO Alex Leitão said.

“Since the beginning, when we brought the Pride to Orlando, we always had an intention to bring Marta with us for all the reasons in the world: for what she brings to the game, her talent, for all her accomplishments.”

It’s the type of big-name signing that immediately enhances the Pride and the National Women’s Soccer League, similar to what Kaká did for Orlando City and Major League Soccer.

Sales of Pride tickets and jerseys immediately spiked after the news broke Friday afternoon, according to a spokesman for the club.

Marta will join the Pride on a two-year contract with an option for a third, pending the receipt of her P-1 Visa and International Transfer Certificate. Additional contract details were not released, per league policy. The club is hopeful the paperwork clears in time for Marta to play in the Pride’s season opener April 15 in Portland.

Marta, 31, was under contract with FC Rosengård in Sweden, which was in the midst of UEFA Champions League play when rumors of her departure began to spread on social media. Marta told reporters in Sweden to forget any transfer talk because she was solely focused on leading Rosengård to a European title.

After Rosengård was knocked out of the competition by Barcelona last week, Leitão posted a cryptic tweet consisting of the Pride’s Twitter handle followed by an image of a goat.

Marta widely is considered the GOAT — Greatest of All Time — in women's soccer.

“I did it because, I thought, ‘Here we go, we’re going to make this happen,’” Leitão said of the tweet.

Women’s Soccer Weekly first reported the dynamic striker’s potential move last month, but the deal was years in the making.

Leitão, who is Brazilian along with Orlando City majority owner Flávio Augusto da Silva, has known Marta’s agent, Fabiano Farah, more than 15 years through working closely with Brazilian striker Ronaldo, who Farah also represented.

The first question Marta asked Leitão about the club was, “Who will I be playing with?”

He told her: U.S. women’s national team defender Ali Krieger, goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris and, when she returns from France this summer, forward Alex Morgan. Brazilian national teammates Monica and Camila, and Australian internationals Steph Catley, Laura Alleway and Alanna Kennedy.

“I told her, and she said, ‘That’s where I want to be,’” Leitão said.

Marta’s signing naturally raised questions about whether Morgan really was returning to the Pride after her stint with Olympique Lyonnais.

“We fully expect Alex to come back, and this will compliment Alex,” Budalic said. “That was one of the challenges last year, trying to find the best way to build around her, and we’ve found the perfect player in Marta.”

That’s good news for the NWSL, which lost not only Morgan to an overseas club recently, but also her U.S. national teammates: Carli Lloyd (Manchester City), Crystal Dunn (Chelsea) and Heather O'Reilly (Arsenal).

Salary was not a factor in the Marta deal, and required no negotiation. She will get the NWSL maximum, about $41,000. The majority of her money comes off the field from endorsements, and moving to one of the biggest markets in the world was enticing.

Marta played in the U.S. before, with three teams in the now-defunct WPS league from 2009-2011. A more stable women’s league added to the appeal of returning, particularly to Florida, where she’d expressed a desire to live after her playing career, Leitão said.

“Negotiations are relatively straightforward when you’re talking about a player like this, because she’s coming for the maximum salary,” Orlando City General Manager Niki Budalic said. “There’s really no negotiating a contract. It was more about convincing Marta about our project … the ambition of the club, where the club wants to go with both the men’s and women’s programs.”

Pride coach Tom Sermanni said he’s never met Marta, but when he coached the Australian national team, he played against her – and always lost.

He said he will speak to her when she arrives about where they think she will best fit on the field, and where she thinks she best fits.

“I think it shows the intent of this club to really invest in the Pride, to take the NWSL seriously and to be successful,” Sermanni said.

Marta is now the most decorated player under the Orlando City SC umbrella. She has five consecutive World Player of the Year titles (2006-2010) and was runner-up four times (2005, 2011-14). For perspective: Morgan’s best finish for that title was third place (2012), Mia Hamm won twice (2001-02) and Kaká won that title in the men’s game only once (2007).

When asked about the magnitude of Marta’s signing, Budalic said: “I’m not sure it’s bigger than Kaká, but you could make the argument for sure.”

ardelgallo@orlandosentinel.com

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