Ali Ahmed is a 22-year-old midfielder who plays for the Vancouver Whitecaps in MLS. Ahmed plays as a #8 and as a wing-back. He had a very unusual path to MLS. As a teenager, he trialed in Europe but did not catch on, in part because he had no agent to advise him. Ahmed is from a working-class family so he was forced to return home due to a lack of funds. At the time there was no CPL and therefore very limited professional opportunities, even just to train, for Ahmed. He and his friends would jump the fence after hours at Toronto F.C.’s training facility to practice on their own. Eventually, a former youth coach helped him get an opportunity with the Vancouver Whitecaps and, after some delays due to Covid-19, he signed for their reserve team. At this time the Whitecaps reserves didn’t even play in a League, they just played random friendlies, but I want the record to show that I was excited about him even then!
Since joining the Whitecaps Ahmed’s trajectory has been straight up. He was WFC2’s player of the year in the first season of MLS Next Pro and earned a first-team contract. From there he quickly nailed down a spot as a starter and made his debut for the Canadian national team.
Ahmed is primarily a ball progressor. He is a particularly exceptional carrier of the ball. Ahmed is extremely fast with the ball at his feet and his first instinct is always to go forwards. Ahmed is not necessarily the most ball-secure carrier. He does get dispossessed quite a lot. But Ahmed’s work ethic and refusal to give up on a play means he often just wins it right back. On that note, Ahmed is not the greatest 1v1 dribbler, but he attempts so many that he does make it past players sometimes.
Ahmed can also do some ball progression through passing. He is particularly good around the edge of the box, adept at slipping short-range passes into channels and behind the opposition defence. In deeper areas, he is very good at combining with teammates and using his off-the-ball movement to get free.
Ahmed is a force defensively thanks to his speed and tenacity. He is really quick to close players down. Despite an extremely slight build, Ahmed is surprisingly strong. He is able to win battles against, or at least give a hard time to, much bigger players in battles for a loose ball. Often he just overwhelms opponents with the speed of his pressing. Now, Ahmed can still get taken advantage of from time to time. I certainly would not play him as a #6. But he still offers a positive defensive impact as a #8 or as a wing-back.
There are two recent examples of Canadians in their early 20s moving from MLS to Europe. Alistair Johnston who moved to Celtic and Tajon Buchanan who moved to Club Brugge. I think this sort of move is easily achievable for Ahmed. I think he might have the ability to play for a smaller team in a top-5 league but due to his lack of a track record in MLS, he will probably have to take an intermediate step first. Also of note, Ahmed is still on his entry-level contract, having signed from MLS Next Pro at the beginning of the year. He only makes 94,000 USD P/A. This means giving him a significant raise would be well within the budget of lots of Europa league-level teams, something that isn’t true of every MLS prospect.
Below is a compilation of all of Ahmed’s touches in his debut for the Canadian national team (this match was also covered by Target Scouting!). I think it gives a pretty good overview of what he is capable of.