Two years ago, Ali Ahmed was part of Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 of MLS Next Pro. Flash forward to today and he is a key part of the first team. But go back a few years and Ahmed was struggling to find a club to call home.

Ahmed’s road to professional soccer wasn’t linear. The road was full of twists and turns. The Toronto native was on trial with Toronto FC in 2018 and they were ready to sign him for their academy. However, Ahmed was ambitious, he wanted more.

He then went to Portugal and had a trial with the under-19 team of Clube de Futebol Os Belenenses. But they were unable to sign him as he was under 18. Ahmed then went to Spain for trials but to no success. He then went back to Toronto before trialling again in Portugal, the Netherlands and then the UK. Sadly, there was no success there either.

But Ahmed didn’t give up and eventually found his way to Vancouver and impressed with the under-23 team in 2020 and 2021. In 2022, he was a key part of Whitecaps FC 2 and led them with five assists. Ahmed earned his place with the Whitecaps.

Weep not for roads untraveled. Without those failed trials, Ahmed wouldn’t have become a key part of the Whitecaps squad.

Why the Whitecaps have a gem in Ahmed

Ahmed broke through with the Whitecaps in 2023 and helped them win their second straight Canadian Championship. He earned Young Player of the Tournament. He started as a left-back in head coach Vanni Sartini’s 4-3-1-2 (or the Christmas tree) formation but when Sartini changed the formation to 3-1-4-2, Ahmed would primarily in the midfield.

The great thing about Ahmed is he can play multiple positions. He can play as a fullback, wingback, as an eight or even as a 10. You can say he is a Swiss Army Knife.

It doesn’t matter what position he plays, he excels. Ahmed is an excellent dribbler. One second it looks like he’ll lose the ball or fall down but he ends up keeping it, evading the defender (or defenders) and runs another few yards before making an accurate pass. He is a playmaker who displays good instincts and vision and knows how to win the ball back.

Yeah, Ahmed is a soccer Swiss Army Knife. Look at his Football Reference underlying numbers over the past year. They are pretty good.

This season, he is mainly playing as a wingback and has impressed. In the last game against the Portland Timbers, his run from the left wing made Ryan Gauld’s goal happen.

Ahmed on playing with Fafa Picault and the challenges of playing during Ramadan.

Ahmed, Gauld and Fafa Picault were the standouts in the game against Portland. After the 3-2 win, Ahmed spoke about what it has been like playing alongside Picault, a player who has similar qualities as him. Both have pace, great dribbling and can win one-on-one duels.

“It’s nice playing with him, he’s a funny character off the field,” he said. “This week, we’ve been texting, we’ve been talking so much about this game and how we’re playing and where we’re playing. I was playing on the left side and he was a bit bitter, So he was on me all week about playing on the left side, making jokes, but nah, it’s lovely. You see what he does man. The two games he started, he’s been huge for us. You know, he’s a lovely man. I can learn from him. He’s been like, what, 25 years in the league?”

Ahmed has also been fasting as part of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar a very important time for Muslims. It is the month when it is believed the Quran was sent from heaven to the Prophet Muhammad. As a result, Muslims fast from dawn until sunset.

The Whitecaps game against Portland was delayed for a bit so Ahmed could break his fast. It is quite astonishing that Ahmed could still run around and concentrate on the game, let alone put on a good performance while fasting.

“Of course, it’s a challenge,” said Ahmed when asked about that. “I think if you prepare yourself mentally and obviously the nutritionist here, Joanna has been helping me a lot. I think the first week was probably a challenge for me, but after that, [I was] just so used to everything. You’re just in such a routine and just such a mode that allows you to just get used to it. Of course, it’s hard, no water, no drinks, nothing. But I’m just mentally focused and physically feeling good. Honestly, It feels like I’m revitalized in these moments.”

No food, no water, no problem for Ahmed.

Enjoy Ahmed while you can

Ahmed’s stock has been rising with the Whitecaps and he even got called up for Canada for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. With the way he has been playing, another call-up seems inevitable.

Ahmed is just getting started. The game against the Timbers was his first start since he was coming off sports hernia surgery. Now that he is healthy, he has a lot more to show. If this keeps up, perhaps he could get that move to Europe after all.

Enjoy him while you can Whitecaps fans.