New York Athletic Club forward Furtuna Velaj (back row, third to right) is the 2019 Metropolitan Conference Offensive Player of the Year. [New York Athletic Club]
NEW YORK CITY — WPSL newcomer Furtuna Velaj made her presence known in her first season with New York Athletic Club – a season that earned her the 2019 Metropolitan Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
As a veteran of the game, Velaj’s experience as a professional in Europe made a huge impact this season. With five goals and two assists, Velaj was the third-leading scorer in the Metropolitan Conference and second with her team.
“Her first touch is pure class and she has the uncanny ability to dribble past defenders by just subtly moving the ball from side to side,” NYAC coach Adam Perez said.
Born in Kosovo, Velaj at eight-years-old moved to Stamford, Connecticut in search of more opportunities for girls to play soccer.
Velaj went on to play four years at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut – scoring 39 goals in 63 matches and earning an ESPN.com feature in addition to many conference and regional accolades, which included 2010 All-Northeast Conference first team and several Adidas/NEC Player of the Week.
Velaj also earned a spot with the Albanian Women’s National Team, and she helped the club qualify twice in World Cup Preliminary Qualifiers in 2013 and 2017. She claims her fondest memory was playing against the French National Team in Paris in front of 10,000 fans.
Prior to moving back to the U.S. in 2017, Velaj played professionally in Iceland (Ungmennafelagio Afturelding), Finland (PK-35 Vantaa, where she won the 2013 Finnish Cup Champ), Norway (Kolbotn IL) and Germany (SC Sand).
With the brief break from professional soccer before joining NYAC, Velaj said maintaining her fitness and elevating her skills was the hardest part. However, her competitive nature for the game fueled her motivation through the season.
“I try to be as active as possible by playing in different soccer leagues and with other sports like basketball, tennis, volleyball and biking,” Velaj said.
Perez describes the team’s mentality as being strong on game day, which Velaj’s zen and relaxed personality affected the rest of the team in a positive way.
When NYAC faced eventual conference champion NJ Wizards SC Cedar Stars on June 23, Perez could field only 12 players. The club’s backup keeper played striker, and its left wing played with a strained hamstring.
With the odds against the squad, NYAC pulled off an incredible draw with Velaj turning in a solid performance.
“Furtuna scored a 35-yard rocket that kissed the upper 90 bar and dropped in,” Perez said. “On the best goalie I have ever seen live (Eveljn Frigotto, who was named 2019 Metropolitan Defensive Player of the Year), you can’t put a ball more in the top corner than that.”
Velaj also described the match as one of her favorite personal moments of the season. She credits the bond with her teammates and coaches to making this season enjoyable.
“The team had lots of players with fun personalities that made practices and games enjoyable,” Velaj said. “We had an amazing and supportive coaching staff with Adam and Matt whom encouraged team bonding at practices as much as possible, which in turn led to us playing so well with each other.”