Alphonso Davies – His Vancouver Whitecaps Journey (2015 – 2018)
Cloverdale Athletic Park. Sunday September 15th 2015.
A place and day that will go down in history. For that it was on that day, on a grass pitch out in the Valley, that Alphonso Davies made his Vancouver Whitecaps debut.
Phonzie had just joined the Whitecaps Residency program a few weeks before in August and took to the pitch that Sunday, as you can see below, for the ‘Caps U16s first match of the 2015-16 USSDA season. The rest is history.
Davies played the full 80 minutes that day in a 1-1 draw with Sacramento Republic, on a U16 Whitecaps team were the club’s two latest homegrown additions, Michael Baldisimo and Theo Bair. But it wasn’t long before the Residency coaches agreed that he needed to be tested at a higher level, moving him up to the U18s, where he continued to shine.
His skill hadn’t gone unnoticed by the ‘Caps brass either and in January 2016 Carl Robinson invited the then 15-year-old Alphonso into the Whitecaps MLS preseason camp, taking him with the team down to Arizona and Portland, where he saw playing time.
He played in all three matches in Tucson, even setting up Marco Bustos’ game winner against Houston Dynamo in the last match.
His attitude and performances convinced the Whitecaps to give him a USL contract with WFC2, which he duly signed while down in Portland with the first team in February 2016.
Davies’ USL debut with WFC2 came on April 2nd down in Portland in the 3-1 win over the Timbers. It was the ‘Caps second match of the campaign, with Davies missing the season opener in Orange County as he was away with Canada’s U20 team.
The following week came his home debut, coincidentally enough it came again against Sacramento Republic, this time in a 0-0 draw.
He was enjoying life with the 2’s, his face a picture of joy after each ‘Caps goal.
We’d joked with Phonzie when we spoke with him about when his first pro goal would come. He was eager to get that monkey off his back and we didn’t have to wait too long, coming in WFC2’s seventh game of the season, and Davies’ sixth straight start, on May 15th, in a 4-3 barnstormer of a win over Los Angeles Galaxy II.
Davies won the ball, streaked forward, and powered into the box before coolly slotting home.
The goal made the 15-year-old the youngest ever goalscorer in the USL. His first professional goal, and he celebrated in style.
If anyone was doubting the Whitecaps’ intention with Davies, then his call up to the first team squad for the Canadian Championship semi-final with Ottawa was the firm indication that his future lay with the first team squad.
Davies came on as a second half sub during the 2-0 first leg defeat in Ottawa on June 1st. A week later and he was starting the second leg, a 3-0 win that sent the ‘Caps through to the final, and producing what we would soon come to see on a regular basis in MLS – bursts of speeds and skill, proving to be a handful, leaving defenders in his wake and on the ground, and a constant danger.
The ‘Caps were allowed to call Davies up four times from the USL team under MLS rules, and they used their final two call-ups in the Canadian Championship final later that June.
Davies started the first leg in Toronto and was a sub in the second at BC Place on June 29th, as the Whitecaps lost a late heartbreaker on away goals after the tie finished 2-2 on aggregate.
It felt inevitable that a MLS deal was in the offing, and it was little surprise when it came on July 15th.
Davies became the youngest ever Whitecap during the MLS era, and the third youngest in MLS history. He was also the first player to be signed from WFC2.
The whirlwind continued for the winger as he made his MLS debut the next day, coming on as a 77th minute sub for Nicolas Mezquida, and even firing off his first shot in MLS.
Davies showed no fear and the crowd we buzzing every time he was on the ball during a dazzling display in his brief cameo. It was a sign of things to come.
Three days later and the 15-year-old was coming on as a 61st minute sub as English Premier League side Crystal Palace came to BC Place for a friendly.
It didn’t matter the opposition, Davies continued to simply play his game.
Davies went on to make eight appearances, two of them starts, during that 2016 MLS season, logging seven shots in his 299 minutes played.
He also featured during three of the Whitecaps four group games during the 2016/17 CONCACAF Champions League campaign. With one start and two substitute appearances.
In that one start, he went on to score the crucial 93rd minute winner at Sporting Kansas City to clinch the group and move the Whitecaps into the knock out stages. It was a stunning strike from the edge of the box that was worthy of winning any game.
GOAL Vancouver, @ALPHONSODAVIES No. 67 | @SportingKC @whitecapsfc #SCCL #SoyAficionado pic.twitter.com/JVMjWz9WvL
— THE CHAMPIONS (@TheChampions) September 14, 2016
The 2017 season saw Davies really start to garner the attention from clubs around the world.
It all started on the Whitecaps preseason trip to Wales where Davies was watched by Liverpool scout, and former Whitecap, Andy O’Brien. But he wasn’t alone, with Manchester United, Chelsea, and Juventus amongst other clubs taking in the ‘Caps three games against the U23 sides of Cardiff City, Bristol City, and Oxford United.
Two first half goals in the 4-0 demolition of Bristol City raised Davies’ stock amongst those watching, and the Whitecaps subbed him off at the half.
As the ‘Caps kicked off their year with more CONCACAF Champions League action, Davies started both quarter-final matches against New York Red Bulls, firing Vancouver ahead in the second leg of the tie at BC Place just five minutes into the match.
It was a lead they weren’t to give up with a 2-0 win on the night and 3-1 on aggregate. Phonzie was the Champions League hero once again. I wonder if we’ll be saying that in the future when he’s at Bayern!
Phonzie played in both legs of the semi-final against Tigres, as the ‘Caps bowed out of the competition. Great experience for the then 16-year-old and something he would build upon as the year progressed.
When you’re a young player just starting off your pro career, you’re going to notch up a lot of first and Phonzie grabbed his first Canadian Championship goals and an assist in the 2017 competition.
Davies opened the scoring for Vancouver in the 13th minute of their semi-final first leg clash with Montreal Impact at BC Place on May 23rd.
Twenty minutes later he was providing an assist to Nicolas Mezquida to make it 2-0, as his quickness of foot and skills left Montreal’s defence struggling to cope.
The first leg finished 2-1, with Vancouver going down 4-2 in the second leg for a 5-4 aggregate loss. Davies did also score in Montreal, however, with a nice finish from just inside the box to bring the Whitecaps back into the tie, but sadly all to no avail.
59' Sweet finish from @AlphonsoDavies makes it 3-1…GAME ON. #VWFC #BattleOfTheNorth pic.twitter.com/nK28P8Gosn
— Vancouver Whitecaps (@WhitecapsFC) May 31, 2017
It was what many felt could be a breakout year for Davies, and in some ways it was. It certainly put him on the world map.
After receiving his Canadian citizenship in June, Davies headed off to the Gold Cup in the summer to play for Canada, scoring three goals for the national team and winning the Golden Boot. It was a fantastic performance from the youngster, but it seemed to take a lot out of him and his form for the Whitecaps dipped considerably when he returned.
The 2017 MLS season saw him make 26 appearances for the Whitecaps, but only nine of them were starts, with fans left a little bit frustrated that he wasn’t being utilised more, with only three regular season starts after his return from the Gold Cup.
He did record his first MLS assist, however, in his post Gold Cup performances. It came on August 23rd at BC Place, as a ten man Whitecaps side fought back to earn a point against Cascadian rivals Seattle Sounders in a 1-1 draw. Four minutes after Tony Tchani’s sending off, Davies tore up the left wing, cut into the box, and centred for Fredy Montero to fire home the equaliser.
A long overdue MLS assist, but it was to be the first of many more to come this season.
There’s no doubting that Davies’ form dipped in the second half of 2017. You can call it burn out, players learning his game, or something else, but whatever it was, he bounced back with a vengeance in the 2018 MLS season.
The question many were asking was when would see Phonzie’s first goal in MLS? We didn’t have to wait much longer to see it, with Davies opening his goalscoring account in the league in the 2-1 season opening win against Montreal.
David provided the assist for Kei Kamara’s opening goal in the 63rd minute, then seven minutes later, the 17-year-old (and four months and two days!) became the 10th youngest goalscorer in MLS history when he tucked away Cristian Techera’s perfect cross (admittedly with the help of Evan Bush).
The joy of what it meant to him was clear to see.
This year has been the breakout season we’ve been waiting for. Davies has three goals and eight assists in his 20 MLS appearances so far this year. He’s started 17 of those matches and clocked up 1509 minutes.
He’s put in a string of solid performances, and arguably should have been credited with more than the eight assists that he has, but perhaps his finest hour in a Whitecaps jersey came in the 5-2 win over Orlando City at BC Place on June 9th.
Davies grabbed a goal and provided three assists that day, with a stunning performance that the ‘Caps will be hard to find a replacement for when he does move on.
Right now, his last goal as a Whitecaps came in at DC United on July 14th. It was nothing but a consolation stoppage time effort in a losing 3-1 match in terms of the history books, but it was a fantastic individual goal by Davies.
90' Here is the wonder-strike from the kid! Take a bow, Alphonso!
3-1 | #VWFC | #DCvVAN pic.twitter.com/DvNfnmIN78
— Vancouver Whitecaps (@WhitecapsFC) July 15, 2018
How many more goals and highlights will we see from Davies in a Whitecaps shirt? There’s still at least three months of the MLS season and a Canadian Championship final to enjoy him in before he heads to Bayern Munich after his record-breaking transfer. Enjoy him while you can.
He won’t be able to wear number 67 in Bayern, he asked but their shirt numbers don’t go that high, so he’s asked for the closest number to it he can get. That number is 39. The number he start off playing in for the Whitecaps that sunny Sunday afternoon in Cloverdale nearly three year ago. Pretty fitting.
It’s been a pleasure watching him develop as a footballer these past three years and chatting to him off the pitch. Everyone talks about how humble he is, and he is. He’s just a fantastically grounded person. We’ll miss him here in Vancouver, but we wish him nothing but the best of luck over in Europe and can’t see what the next stage of his football journey brings him.
Great article, Michael.