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Vancouver Whitecaps sign Ali Adnan on loan from Udinese Calcio

Iraq's defender Ali Adnan (R) salutes the spectators at the conclusion of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup group D football match between Iran and Iraq at the Maktoum Stadium in Dubai on January 16, 2019. (Photo by Karim Sahib / AFP)KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images ** OUTS - ELSENT, FPG, CM - OUTS * NM, PH, VA if sourced by CT, LA or MoD **

The Vancouver Whitecaps have made official the acquisition of 25-year-old Iraqi national team left back Ali Adnan, who will join the Major League Soccer team on a four-month loan from Italian club Udinese Calcio. 

After Columbus Crews’ Justin Meram, Ali Adnan is only the second Iraqi national team player to play in Major League Soccer. He is also the first MLS player to be born in Iraq. 

The deal, reported by Pro Soccer USA Friday, will help bolster a thin position for the Whitecaps.

Like Korean signing Hwang In-beom, the 6-foot-1 Adnan impressed at the 2019 Asian Cup this winter. Starting in all four games for his country at the tournament, Adnan scored a last-minute free kick to win a game against Vietnam in the group stage and was named to the tournament’s Best XI by Fox Sports Asia.

But he also found himself suspended from the Iraqi national team for six months following an incident after Iraq’s 1-0 Round-of-16 defeat against Qatar. 

Things have not been much better at the club level. Adnan struggled in recent months on loan with Atalanta Bergamo, and had not featured for the Serie A side since Sept. 30. Adnan spent the first half of the 2018/19 season with Atalanta, making just three league appearances and one appearance in the UEFA Europa League. 

Iraq’s defender Ali Adnan, right, clears the ball past Qatar’s midfielder Abdelaziz Hatem, left, and Qatar’s defender Assim Madibo, back, during the AFC Asian Cup round of 16 soccer match between Qatar and Iraq at Al Nahyan Stadium in Abu Dhabi, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Originally, Atalanta had a loan-to-buy agreement with Udinese Calcio that would have seen Adnan join the Bergamo-based club on a permanent transfer at the end of the Serie A season. A dispute with Atalanta head coach Gian Piero Gasperini over Adnan’s participation at the Asian Cup, however, meant Adnan no longer had a future in Bergamo. With Atalanta terminating his contract in March — after the transfer window was shut in Italy — Udinese were not able to register Adnan for the rest of the season. 

Hence, Udinese was trying to find a solution to grant Adnan some playing time. With the transfer window in MLS still open and the Whitecaps looking for a short-term solution at the left-back position, it was the right opportunity at the right time.

“We evaluated every opportunity that was possible, and this loan allows us to strengthen the left back position while we continue to explore the market for the July transfer window,” said Whitecaps head coach Marc Dos Santos. 

“I am very much looking forward to joining the Whitecaps,” added Adnan.

The Whitecaps were clear in their statement Saturday about the deal that Adnan will only join the club on a short-term basis.

So what sort of player is Ali Adnan? Described as the Iraqi Gareth Bale in Italy, Adnan is a physically strong left back with both a strong defensive mindset and an ability to join his team on the rush. 

“Ali is physically gifted, aggressive, strong in the air and he will bring balance to the team with his defensive mindset. He’s excited to come here and experience playing in Vancouver before he returns to Italy,” Dos Santos said, summing up Adnan’s main attributes. 

Said Adnan: “I know it is an important club with ambition and a strong fan base. I talked with head coach Dos Santos a lot before signing, so I’m excited by the prospect of working with him, all the staff and my new teammates.”

It might only be a short-term marriage between Adnan and Whitecaps, but it could be a partnership that works out well for everyone involved.

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