Amirah Ali is coming home - at least, for the weekend. This spring, the Voorhees, NJ native began her rookie season with expansion side San Diego Wave FC following a successful collegiate career with Rutgers University. On Sunday, June 19, the club will travel back to Ali’s home state to take on NJ/NY Gotham FC.
A new team, a strong start
Ali has already made waves with her performance in the NWSL this year, notching a goal in the Challenge Cup and an assist during the regular season. With 15 points in nine matches, Wave FC currently sits at the top of the NWSL table, an impressive feat for any team, let alone a brand new expansion team. For the 23-year-old forward, being new to the league doesn’t feel like a disadvantage.
“I think [our strong start] really just relates to off the field. We’re pretty close, we like to hang out. I think that that’s a big thing because we’re all new here, too. There’s not much we have but each other here,” Ali told AllForXI. “It’s the chemistry that we’re building off the field that’s translating to on the field.”
In addition to their chemistry on and off the field, Ali has been impressed with the overall environment at the club. “We practice hard. We want to get better. We want to keep challenging ourselves and our teammates. That’s been pushing us and helping us excel,” she explained.
Much of the team’s mindset comes from having veterans on the roster including Sofia Jakobsson, Jodie Taylor, and May’s NWSL Player of the Month, Alex Morgan. “[They] have taken us under their wing and taught us as much as possible. It’s really nice, and their leadership has been helping us excel,” Ali said.
A rookie season filled with firsts
On April 2nd, San Diego secured their first-ever win during the 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup, winning 4-2 at home over their state rivals Angel City FC. Ali entered the match in the 68th minute, and in the 81st, scored the team’s 4th goal, securing the win for the home side.
With a pass from her teammate Belle Briede at midfield, Ali ran up the left side of the field, taking on multiple defenders by herself, and slotted the ball past the keeper at the far post. “It was a surreal moment, being at home and having such an amazing crowd of people supporting you, especially playing against the California rivals,” Ali said, reflecting on her goal.
Best of all, the feeling of scoring a goal felt familiar. She was a prolific goal scorer at Rutgers, scoring 12 goals and 6 assists in her final season last year. “It was nostalgia, like how it used to be in college and being able to score for my team. It was a great feeling. As much as it was a monumental thing to score my first pro goal, it felt good doing that for my team,” she said.
More recently, Ali was able to make another significant impact on her team when Wave FC hosted 2021 NWSL Shield Winners the Portland Thorns on June 8th. In the 76th minute, with the team down by two goals, Ali was subbed on. Just five minutes later, Ali assisted her teammate Taylor Kornieck for the team’s first goal of the night. Kornieck would score a second goal only seven minutes after that, securing a 2-2 tie and a point to keep the team at the top of the table.
“In all games, my mindset is to come in and be able to make a difference on the field. I’m fresh legs on the field, everyone’s been playing for 70 minutes or so, and I feel like this is my time to just kind of exploit that and do as much as I can for the team, specifically when I knew we were down” Ali explained.
For Ali, her role as a “game-changer” means getting out there and giving her team that extra push to encourage them to keep fighting. “If they see me going full out, it will help encourage them to do the same,” she said. “I know they’ve been out there for a long time, but just seeing that burst of energy can help. As soon as I get on the field, I’m just trying to spark as much energy into the team and keep the ball rolling.”
Despite the elation that came with securing the draw, the team never wants to stop growing and improving. “At the end of the game, we were very excited and happy with that result, but ready to put that same amount of energy and effort into the next games,” she said.
Ultimately, even with their early success, Ali believes that this is just the beginning for the new club. “I think people haven’t seen who we really are yet, being a new team. We are finally molding into who we want to be as a team and as a program, and to represent San Diego in the best way possible.”
A (brief) homecoming
Looking towards the rest of her rookie season, Ali is ready to face whatever comes her way and remain true to who she is as a player. “There are definitely challenges but I’m excited to take it head-on and keep developing, keep learning, and also make sure I’m being myself,” she said. “Along with our game plan, I want to make sure to represent how Amirah Ali plays on the field and try to keep that.”
As Wave FC prepares for their match against Gotham FC on Sunday, Ali is looking forward to once again being surrounded by those closest to her. She expects many of her friends, family, and former college teammates to be in the stands at Red Bull Arena this weekend.
“Playing at Rutgers and living in New Jersey, family and friends could always come to my home games. It’s been different this year not being able to have that,” Ali said. “Going back home will be really nice to just see my family and have everyone be there to support me in person.”