There was a general sense throughout the 2021 NWSL Draft that Portland Thorns FC kept selecting high quality players that were surprisingly still available when it was their turn.
Coach Mark Parsons was nervous that Yazmeen Ryan would get drafted before they had a chance to select her. Same with Sam Coffey, who seemed to have slid under the radar, much to the joy of the Thorns. The most surprising in this regard, however, was when Amirah Ali was available with the 22nd pick of the draft. In fact, WoSo expert Chris Henderson stated, “I get the feeling some clubs are going to regret that in a few years.”
Yeah, I cannot believe teams let Amirah Ali slip to #22 with Portland. I get the feeling some clubs are going to regret that in a few years.— Chris Henderson (@chris_awk) January 14, 2021
Portland was ecstatic. Ali plays her college soccer at Rutgers University and is ever-present on the team sheet. She has started all 62 matches during her three years at the university and scored 25 goals and added 12 assists. She is a player that thrives under pressure and steps up when her team needs her. Ali became Rutgers’ all-time leading golden goal-scorer after notching three in 2019, taking her career total to eight overall.
“She could jump into the NWSL now and be a physical presence with her mobility and movement, her energy,” said Parsons. “ She receives the ball under pressure, back to goal, can twist and turn, can run at people, could finish. She can impact now. But I do think there’s going to be a journey for her ... I feel she can come in and learn from some of the best players in the world around her. And I think she can learn from this coaching staff.”
Ali is a player that thrives in the final third. She uses her body positioning and quick shoulder feints to turn her defenders. Ali also has a knack for finding the right areas in the penalty box to create space for herself and to be ready to tap in a rebound. Her shot is accurate and she can turn half chances into goals because she consistently shoots the ball on goal. With the Scarlet Knights she has a .503 shot on goal percentage.
“She’s got an identity that we feel we need going forward in the future,” said Parsons. “We’ve got some fantastic options right now, but we’re going to need more help in the future. And it was an opportunity we couldn’t let go. [She’s] great on the ball, great finisher, and just an absolute handful. I remember just in the last few weeks speaking to college coaches who played against her begging NWSL teams to take so they don’t have to play her again.”
Henderson reported that Ali will stay with Rutgers for at least the spring season. She has unfinished business in the Big Ten. Rutgers went 15-4-1 overall and 8-2-1 in their conference. They finished second in the Big Ten for the second consecutive year, finishing behind Wisconsin in 2019 and Penn State in 2018.
Portland Thorns' draftee Amirah Ali is staying with Rutgers at least for the Spring NCAA season.— Chris Henderson (@chris_awk) January 15, 2021
Thorns fans will want to keep an eye on the Big Ten this year as both 2021 draft picks Amirah Ali and Sam Coffey duke it out for the conference title. But before the season starts, Ali had a moment to realize a dream.
“I’m just at a loss for words right now and I’m so excited and honored to have this opportunity,” said Ali. “This is something I’ve dreamed of for so long. I’m so excited to reunite with one of my old teammates — love you Po (Madison Pogarch) — and I can’t wait to work alongside and learn from the best players and coaches in the league. Go Thorns!”
"I'm just at a loss for words."— Portland Thorns FC (@ThornsFC) January 14, 2021
Hear from Amirah Ali, who gives a special shoutout to a former Rutgers teammate. #NWSLDraft #BAONPDX pic.twitter.com/sNMal1V0k9