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Bob Frid/Vancouver Whitecaps FC

How Ali Adnan has become one of the most impactful and exciting players in MLS

VANCOUVER, BC – Ali Adnan is here to stay. 

Vancouver Whitecaps FC announced on Friday that the club has acquired Adnan from Italian Serie A club Udinese Calcio in a multimillion-dollar transaction and signed the Iraqi international as a Designated Player through 2021 – with an option for 2022.

Adnan, who originally joined Whitecaps FC on loan through the end of June, represents one of the most significant signings in the history of Whitecaps FC.

“It shows commitment from a player who has come to Vancouver for what seemed to be a short-term contract, and is committing to the system that the Whitecaps are playing, committing to the project Marc Dos Santos is building,” said TSN soccer analyst Kristian Jack. “That’s very important because the other players who are already there see that. They understand that what they’re part of is something special. We can talk tactically all we want, but that ultimately is the most important thing. You don’t want to lose good players.”

Already, Adnan has established himself as one of the most impactful and exciting players in Major League Soccer – let alone his position.

The flashy left back leads all MLS defenders with 35 “dribbles completed” this season – defined as a successful attempt to beat an opposition player in a one v. one situation. He’s also tied for 13th overall in MLS, ahead of some of the league’s most dangerous attackers. In Vancouver’s recent 2-2 draw with Colorado, Adnan completed seven successful dribbles, which is Alphonso Davies level. Only three times did Davies have more successful dribbles in a match during his MLS tenure. 

Adnan is also second amongst MLS defenders in duels won, total shots, and shots on target.

It shouldn’t be a surprise. You don’t play 70 games in Serie A without having a certain level of quality. And that quality has been on full display over the last three months at BC Place.

Although he’s technically a defender, one of Adnan’s greatest strengths is his ability to drive play forward and contribute to the attack – whether it’s his marauding runs down the left flank, exceptional service into the box, or goalscoring threat from long distance.

“If you play the game in the right way, fullbacks can be the modern-day playmakers,” Jack said. “Look at what Liverpool have done this year on the way to winning the Champions League, with arguably two of the finest fullbacks in world football in Trent Alexander-Arnold on the right side and Andrew Robertson on the left side. They had record assists this year in the Premier League.”

“It’s very important that they break the lines, that they can provide the width on those areas, and that they can put the right crosses in the box. That is a vital component …. the left back position is a position that you can not only provide stability as a defender, but he can also be that kind of playmaking player going forward.”

Adnan can hurt you in many different ways. Sometimes, it’s his sheer power and athleticism. Other times, it’s his superior technical ability. Whatever it is, Adnan always brings a certain level of flair and skill to the game that is unrivalled amongst defenders in MLS.

He makes the “mundane” look extraordinary, such as his ability to control any type of pass with any part of his body. And he makes the extraordinary look routine, such as when he dribbled through two defenders – literally, right through them – and curled a strike into the top corner with his “weaker” right foot. It’s that combination of style and substance that truly sets Adnan apart.

“He’s the type of player that gets fans out of their seats,” Jack said.

You don’t often see defenders given the Designated Player tag in MLS. The only other one in MLS at the moment is new Seattle Sounders FC centre back Xavier Arreaga. But as you can see, Adnan is more than a defender in the traditional sense.

He’s so much more.

Many impartial observers considered it a coup for Whitecaps FC to even land him for three months. Now, they’ve got him for three years.

The fun is just getting started.