Wayback Wednesday: Alphonso Davies goes pro

With July 25th being the one-year anniversary of the now-famed Alphonso Davies transfer, where the young Canadian winger made his then MLS-record transfer to Bavarian giants Bayern Munich, giving MLS a big reputation boost while providing the Vancouver Whitecaps with a nice sum of cash. While the loss of the star winger was certainly a big loss for the Caps, who have badly missed his energy and his production (8G, 11A in 2018), it was a big coup for the league, who got a big boost in name-recognition. In honour of the 1-year anniversary, we will take a look back at the other end of his Caps career, back when he was a fresh-faced 15-year-old joining the Caps for preseason, taking a look at the progression to his eventual transfer to Germany. 

Alphonso Davies had just finished what was a whirlwind couple of weeks for the Canadian youngster. Having just sat out 3 matches, as worldwide giants like Bayern and Paris Saint Germain haggled over his future, he was ecstatic to have returned to the field, having just delivered an incredible 2 goals and 2 assists performance, putting the sword to Minnesota United FC.

“I love playing football. It’s my passion,” said Davies after the match. “Being away for two weeks, sitting on the side, you’re itching to get on the field. And when I got my opportunity, I took it.”

It was a perfect week for the club, fans and players alike. While it would be tough to imagine Davies, the heartbeat of the Whitecaps offence all of 2018, leaving to greener pastures, he had certainly given a lot to the club, providing results, entertainment and lastly a nice sum of cash. 

Signing Breakdown: Alphonso Davies signs with VWFC 2 (Feb 23rd, 2016), a few months later, signs with VWFC (July 15th, 2016). 

While Davies officially signed his first pro contract with VWFC 2 in February of 2016, before signing his MLS deal a few months later in July, his Whitecaps professional adventure actually kicked off a few months earlier, when Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson took him down to Tucson and then up to Portland for preseason, giving the 15-year-old a chance to test the waters at a pro-level. After a strong residency season in 2015, where he quickly moved up the ranks from U16 to U18 with strong performances against his peers, it was a great confidence boost for the youngster, who was rewarded for all his hard work the year prior. 

He had a good preseason, as well, showing off his massive potential for the pro game, as he was fearless on the ball, taking on defenders with confidence that was beyond his 15 years. He finished the trip having featured in all 3 matches in Tucson, picking up an assist, as well as featuring in 2 out of 3 up in Portland, giving him valuable experience to carry into the start of the season. 

(Davies assist is at 2:00)

While it was unclear if he would make the step up to VWFC 2 or return to the youth program before the start of 2016, the Caps put all that to rest during the preseason, when it was announced that Davies had put pen to paper on his first professional deal, joining VWFC 2 in the USL. It was exciting news for Caps fans, as it would mean that their prized youngster would get to compete at a high level, gaining valuable experience by competing against grizzled veterans who fight to put food on their tables, a big step up from taking on fellow youth at the U18 level. The Caps brass and faithful alike could keep a close eye on the youngster, with the team playing at UBC Thunderbird Field, making sure his development as a pro was going as planned. 

And boy was it ever. He jumped head-first into his first opportunity at professional football, playing with youthful ambition and a wise head, featuring in 8 matches by mid-July. He had scored his first two professional goals, one a calm finish against LA Galaxy II, the other one a bullet of a shot against Swope Park, but more importantly, he was learning the day-to-day grind of becoming a professional, training and learning in an environment that suited someone as mature as he was. 

He continued to be rewarded for his hard work with the second team, earning a call-up to the first team for the Canadian Championship, where he featured in all 4 of their games that season, including two starts. He was great in the first round against Ottawa, having a coming-out party in the return leg, dazzling with his dribbling and speed, bringing the BC Place crowd to their feet that day. Against Toronto in the final, he had a strong performance as well, with Carl Robinson trusting him enough to come on late in the second leg of the final, showing the trust he already had for the youngster. While Vancouver lost that match in heartbreaking fashion, conceding a 96th-minute winner to Will Johnson, the play of Davies was a positive to build off of for the future. 

So come mid-July, with 8 USL matches and 4 Voyageurs cup matches under his belt, it was no surprise to see the Whitecaps announce that Davies had been signed to an MLS deal. It was just another step in his meteoric rise, and it brought excitement to a disgruntled fan base, who was in the midst of a disappointing campaign, as they were middling along with a 8W-8L4D record in MLS play, to go along with their Voyageur’s cup heartbreak. While it is a decent record (fans of this years team can attest to that) it was expected that they could do much better, especially after a year where they were 3rd in the league overall and had the best goals-against record in MLS. To go from that to not being able to string much of a winning streak together and shipping goals left and right, it was quite disappointing to watch. 

While Alphonso Davies, as good as he had been for the USL team, was not going to save the team at 15, having him running at guys and growing for the rest of the season was certainly going to be something to enjoy for fans. 

The first match that he was available for selection was on July 16th, 2019, vs Orlando, 3 days after he signed the contract, and it was a much-awaited event. While fans were disappointed when it was announced Brazilian legend Kaka would not be making the trip to Vancouver with an injury, a chance to see Daves make his debut was more than enough to generate excitement. The match ended up being a super entertaining affair, with teams trading chances, David Ousted making some incredible saves, as the game finished 2-2. Davies came on at the 77th minute, to raucous applause, and he made an impact right away, getting a few chances at goal, including one that skidded just past the post from 20 yards away. For a 15-year-old, it was a dream debut, and it gave fans a lot to talk about on the way home that night. 

He ended up featuring in 8 MLS matches (2 starts) by the end of the season, and he grew each game, showing off more and more confidence. He also played 3 more USL games, as Robinson allowed him to get some game time to not let his confidence waver, and it paid dividends for the both of them, as Davies ended up earning the trust of Robinson, going the full 90 in his last two matches of the season, against Colorado and Seattle, before being left out of the squad for the last 2 of the season, with the Caps eliminated from playoff contention. He picked up his first MLS assist in his last game of the year, as a great run against Seattle led to him drawing a penalty, which Pedro Morales converted to give Davies his first goal contribution in the big leagues. 

The biggest impact he had in that 2016 season was not in MLS, or Canadian Championship, however, with his performances in the CONCACAF Champions League providing a lot to talk about. He featured in 3 of the 4 matches, twice as a sub, but he made the most noise on a September 14th date with Kansas, where the Caps gave him his first start as first-team professional. While the game was mired by weather trouble, with thunderstorms causing delays, it still eventually went ahead as planned. The match was huge for Vancouver, as 3 points would ensure qualification out of their group and into the knockout stages, but they sent out a B-side anyways, as some important MLS matches loomed, with their playoff lives on the line. They had Central FC, a small Trinidad and Tobago side, in their last game if needed, but a result against Kansas would get them through without a hiccup. 

Davies came out with aplomb in that one, as he had what was likely, looking back, his breakout performance as a Whitecap. He was fearless, as usual, but he seemed to have something extra that day, as the lightning seemed to give him some supernatural energy. He picked up an assist, his first for the first-team, and picked up the winning goal, a deflected effort from 25 yards in the 92nd minute to ensure qualification. It was his first goal for the first team and proved that he could more than just hang around at the MLS level. 

2017:

After an intriguing offseason, with the Whitecaps bringing in players like Fredy Montero, Yordy Reyna and Brek Shea, they were primed to do something good, with the growth of players like Davies also playing a big role. They had lost captain Pedro Morales, who’s time in Vancouver finished turbulently, so it was hoped that the mini culture reset that they had undergone was enough to catapult them back into contention. 

It was a tricky offseason, as well, as the Caps had to complete all of their signings early, as they had to deal with Champions League in early February, which is usually the time preseason just starts to really get going for them. It ended up being worth it, however, as they came out and grinded out a 1-1 on the road against New York, picking up a vital away goal, before coming home and winning 2-0, thanks to a calm and composed Davies goal and a Montero volley that opened his account with the Caps. Davies started both matches and was great, with his goal in the second leg standing up as the winner. He continued where he left off in the Champions League in 2016, and looked primed to have a great season. 

They continued their Champions League run soon after, as they were drawn Mexican giants, Tigres. It was a monumental task, but it was one that was certainly doable. They headed down to Monterrey, chasing any sort of away goal or result, but they fell 2-0, as they conceded two tough goals to fall behind in the aggregate score. Davies went 80 minutes and held his own against some of the best talent in North America, which was certainly a positive from the Caps perspective. While the home leg started out brightly, with Brek Shea scoring an early goal to provide hope, they ended up falling 2-1 on the night and 4-1 on aggregate, which was expected, but disappointing nonetheless. They did show a lot of positive moments, as for a team that was still early on in the campaign they did well against Liga MX’s finest in their peak form. 

Davies continued his strong run in cup competitions into May, as the Caps began their quest to try and lift the 2017 Voyageurs Cup. He shone at home in the first leg, scoring 1 and assisting 1 (both against current Caps keeper, Max Crepeau), before picking up a beauty of a goal in the return leg. While the Caps ultimately fell 5-4 on aggregate, just failing to pick up the third away goal that would have sent them through, Davies had started to make a name for himself across the country and within MLS, as he continued to grow each and every outing.

So when it was announced that Davies had finally received Canadian citizenship in June of that year, paving the way for a first senior call up to the National Team, the hype was understandably high. While he had to go through an intense camp to try and make his first team, which was for the 2017 Gold Cup, he impressed Octavio Zambrano, becoming the youngest player in that tournament when it was announced that he had made Canada’s squad.

And what a tournament did he have. He scored 3 goals across 4 matches, helping Canada progress from the group stage and reach the quarters, where they fell to eventual finalists Jamaica. His pace and poise in front of goal were incredible, and the tournament announced him to a global audience. It seemed like every time a challenge presented itself to the young Canadian, he would complete it with ease, and his performance at the Gold Cup certainly gave hope for the Canadian Soccer future. 

The rest of 2017 went without event, as the Caps bowed out in the Western Conference semis, with Davies bustling in and out of the starting 11 as he continued his adaptation to MLS play. Curiously, for all the goals and assists he had picked up in the Voyageurs Cup, Champions League and Gold Cup, he had yet to have found the goal in MLS through the end of 2017, with only 2 assists to his name. It showed the tough nature of the pro game, but it was clear to see he was growing each and every outing, with his dribbling ability continuing to impress, while his decision making was continuously improving with and without the ball. 

2018:

After two seasons at the pro game, this campaign would prove to be a huge one for Davies. Turning 18 at the end of the year, allowing him to transfer to Europe if something came about, it meant that it would be the perfect time to break out for the young Canadian. While he could always stay in Vancouver, he seemed destined for greater things, he just needed a good run in MLS to attract the attention of some of those European giants that he seemed to long for. 

Things started out great for Davies, who opened the campaign with his first MLS goal in the first match, as he slotted home a great cross from Christian Techera to open his MLS account. That goal, along with a pinpoint cross that Kei Kamara redirected home to score his first for Vancouver, were 2 great moments in what was a great match overall for Davies, who came into the season looking like a whole new player. 

Davies continued to ramp it up that season, who along with Kamara, gave a lot for fans to cheer about. While they were struggling defensively, dropping points and middling along in the middle of the MLS pack, Davies would entertain every time he got on the ball, leading the league with successful dribbles per game. While the results and stats were not coming for him nor the team, he was one of the lone bright spots for the white and blue. 

His breakout match would come June 9th, 2018, as Orlando City came to town. Against the team that Davies had debuted against, he came out with fire, torching defenders all night long in a man of the match performance (even if he couldn’t claim it because of an alcohol sponsor), scoring a goal and assisting 3 others, helping lead the Caps to a dominant 5-2 victory. While it was just a continuation of his strong campaign to date, it was the kind of dominant statistical outing that he certainly needed, not just for his confidence but to attract European attention. 

He picked up an assist a few weeks later against Chicago, bringing his total to 6 assists, along with 2 goals, heading into a crucial test with DC United the eve of the World Cup Final. It was the opening match of Audi Field, and the debut of Wayne Rooney, so there were plenty of global eyeballs on that one. While the Caps got stomped, losing 3-1, Davies had a moment of genius in the 93rd minute, as he skinned 4 guys with speed, smarts and power, before curling one into the low corner for an MLS Goal of the week effort. It got people all around the world talking, and with the European Summer Transfer Window open, a big move seemed imminent. 

The Caps added further fuel to the fire, sitting Davies out for the next 3 matches, an away loss to Seattle, and a pair of Canadian Championship matches against Montreal as they advanced to the final. Despite the complaints of fans, who felt like they were missing out on the lone bright spot of their season for no reason, the Caps held tight-lipped on the affair. 

But it all came to a head, nearly a year ago, on the morning of July 25th, 2018, when it was announced that Davies had indeed made a move. Bayern Munich, giants of world football, multiple Champions League winners, had made a record transfer bid to gain the services of Davies, with the fee being around 10 million euros (15 million CAD), with add-ons bringing it up to around 16 million (around 25 million CAD). It was huge news in MLS, as it looked great for their league and their homegrown program, and was huge news for Vancouver as well, as the funds would provide a jolt for both their team and for the developmental side of things, giving them the chance to upgrade their youth facilities. 

When Vancouver played their next match after the move, that now-famed Saturday night affair against Minnesota, a lot more eyes than usual were on the Caps, who would have the boost of Davies’s return and the national spotlight to try and spear them on. And what a game did they have. Kickstarted by an early Davies assist to Yordy Reyna, who weaved in and out of defenders en route to a great goal, they seemed unstoppable offensively, led by Davies, who finished with 2 goals and 2 assists. The goals were stunning individual efforts, as Davies seemed to have a cheat code that evening, slipping through defenders like water through the cracks of a sidewalk, leaving fans a lot to cheer about from the opening whistle to long after the closing whistle. 

The Caps, despite the continued magic of Davies, would slip out of contention by the end of the season. It was a tough end to the Davies era, as it would have been nice to see some silverware or playoffs to send him off with properly. Instead, they were out of the playoffs by the last 3 matches, and lost spectacularly in the Canadian Championship, losing 5-1 in Toronto. With coach Carl Robinson sacked, Davies leaving and rumours of locker room discontent, it was a rough end to the season for Vancouver. Davies would get one last match, a home affair against Portland, a team already firmly in the playoff picture. Despite being out of the playoff race, fans showed up to say farewell to “Phonzie” and he rewarded them for their commitment, providing them with 2 neat goals, bringing his 2018 total to 8 goals, to go along with 11 assists. When he was brought off at the end of the game, for fellow youngster Simon Colyn, the standing ovation was something else, as they applauded him long and proud for the last time in 2018. 

Today:

Davies had a good start to his Bayern career. While he did not pick up a start last season, he had a few cameos off the bench, slowly earning the trust of Bayern coach Niko Kovac, as he adapted to the technical level a club like Bayern requires. His brightest moment came in March, as he opened his Bundesliga account, volleying home a rebound to become Bayern’s youngest scorer in 19 years. He had a good Gold Cup for Canada and has returned to Bayern looking stronger, smarter and faster, looking good in his 2 appearances in preseason so far, including a full 90-minute cameo against AC Milan last night. It will be interesting to see how much he features for the first team, as he picked up a few matches last year to help Bayern II’s bid to gain promotion to Bundesliga.3, making it a viable option but for now, he appears to be part of Kovac’s plan on the first-team.

The Caps have struggled since his departure, with many of their transfer investments adapting slower than they would have hoped. While it is unclear where exactly the funds were going off the field, they have made some big deals on it, with the transfers of players like Hwang In Beom and Ali Adnan representing significant investment that Vancouver would have otherwise been reluctant to make over the years. While the results are yet to come, those kinds of investments on and off the field will certainly grow the club, with the Davies transfer being looked back upon as the reason why. 

Verdict: 20/10 (It all seems like a dream…)

To read other editions of Wayback Wednesday, you can find them here: https://btsvancity.com/category/whitecaps/wayback-wednesday/

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s