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In praise of Ali Ahmed: young Whitecap emerging on national soccer stage

Ahmed’s performances have warranted a promotion to the Canadian national men’s team
Canada’s Ali Ahmed (20) runs up the field during the second half of a CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer match against Guatemala Saturday, July 1, 2023, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Ali Ahmed is both grateful and humble.

He’s grateful for the trust his coaches have placed in him. He also deflects praise and says he’s just doing his job.

The 22-year-old from Toronto has had a breakout season with the Vancouver Whitecaps, starting matches after getting signed in November 2022 to a full Major League Soccer contract.

Ahmed has scored two goals, one each in the Canadian Championship and MLS, despite playing different positions.

His performances have warranted a promotion to the Canadian national men’s team.

“I’m super thankful for, you know, Vanni, (Michael D’Agostino). Actually, no, all the coaches I had here,” said Ahmed.

Ahmed grew up in Toronto after moving to Canada from Ethiopia. He said the fact he is a visible Ethiopian player is an inspiration.

“I hope a lot of youth could kind of see me as a motivation and to keep them dreaming and dream big, you know, and aim for the stars and hopefully they can be in one of these positions,” Ahmed said.

John Herdman, the head coach of Canada’s men’s soccer team, praised Ahmed’s development after a strong Gold Cup campaign.

“He’s got that little bit of what we’ve seen from (Canadian international midfielder Ismael) Kone where he can find another level that damages teams, where he’s able to turn out of pressure, eliminate a line with his dribbling ability and his combination. He just has that 10-yard speed that top midfielders have,” said Herdman.

“We gambled on him. I wanted Canada to see him. I wanted the world to hopefully see Ali Ahmed because we need some of these players — Ahmed, (Moise) Bombito, (Jacen) Russell-Rowe, etc. — we need them to springboard and springboard quick.”

Herdman’s son played with Ahmed on the Whitecaps FC 2, meaning he’s seen up close how the player has developed.

“I get to watch more of those games than I think most people would. So I think it’s been a good foundation for Ali. He had a solid season and to be fair to the Caps, they’ve given him his opportunity. And he took it,” Herdman said.

Ahmed had an injury scare after getting a concussion against Pacific FC but has since recovered.

“It’s two years that I worked with him,” said Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini. “I knew that he was going to be an important player. He’s surprised me because he added another variation to his game.”

Sartini has played Ahmed across a variety of positions: wingback, centre midfielder and attacking midfielder.

“I think he needs to grow on two things: technical. Again, I’ll say one versus one defending I think is the biggest area of improvement, uh, it’s the reason why for me at the moment, he can be a good wingback, he can be a very good (defensive midfielder),” said Sartini.

“The other thing that probably needs to improve a little bit is the shooting.”

But Ahmed is appreciated in the locker room.

“(He) is not maybe an extrovert and everything, but he’s able to to put that silent joke sometimes and everyone loves them in the locker room,” said Sartini.

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