VALE OF GLAMORGAN, WALES – A year ago, Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s preseason roster included a new name – 15-year-old Alphonso Davies.
The ‘Caps Residency winger was a relative unknown, even among Vancouver supporters. But by the end of 2016, he was known throughout MLS and beyond.
It was a whirlwind year, one that saw him earn his first professional contract, signing for Vancouver's USL side in February, moving on to the MLS roster in July. By September, he was regularly seeing minutes and scored the goal that won Whitecaps FC their CONCACAF Champions League group, finishing the season with eight MLS appearances and two starts.
All that and he only turned 16 in November.
As his game continues to go from strength to strength, Davies is preparing for a tougher sophomore season, but feels he can be a regular contributor and starter with the 'Caps.
“Everything that's happened has been a wonderful experience for me,” said Davies, who scored a pair of goals in Vancouver’s preseason finale vs. Bristol City FC U-23s on Thursday. “My game has developed greatly, but it's still developing.
“I just have to keep developing. I do feel I can compete at this level but it's going to take hard work, playing against guys twice my age. Some of them are old enough to be my father! So it's a really good experience for me.”
The ‘Caps are keen to let Davies be a normal teenager and a more humble, hard-working teenage starlet you'd be pushed to find. And it hasn't gone unnoticed.
“He's very exciting,” said left back Jordan Harvey's. “He's very athletic. He's got a good head on his shoulders. He's motivated. He's humbled, by a lot of the success, which is huge for him.
“I see him being a huge contributor this year. As a team, you don't want to rely too much on these guys as they're going to have their ebbs and flows, but throughout the course of the season, he's going to be major for us.”
Speaking to any of the leaders on the team and you soon find this is a common train of thought. There is real excitement with what may lie in store for the winger and the team this year.
“He has good quality,” Christian Bolaños said of Davies. “He's got a great personality on the pitch and that is important. He can go anywhere. It's in his hands. He has a good future ahead of him.”
Davies hasn't looked out of place in MLS and head coach Carl Robinson isn't surprised in the slightest at how quick the teenager's progression has been the past 12 months.
“I don't care how old you are, I look at the football player,” Robinson said. “I saw a terrific talent last year and I think he's ready to contribute this year. [His development] has been very good, very strong. You can see what his attributes are about. He's a very, very fit boy.”
But Robinson also cautioned that Davies is far from being the finished article, and although he will push hard for starting minutes this coming season, he feels it's important to still bring him on slowly.
The question now is just where he will play.
“His best position is one that we're looking at,” Robinson admitted. “Whether that's wide left, wide right, just behind the front man. He's got a lot of really positive points for any young player to have, but he's also got a lot of areas that we need to improve on. It's important we don't try and get him to run before he can walk.”
Davies himself is targeting “more consistency” in his game to keep his levels continuing to rise.
The teenager has been playing on the right wing in Vancouver's preseason matches, combining especially well with fellow speedster Kekuta Manneh.
“Kekuta's an amazing player,” Davies noted. “He has great abilities to pass the ball, dribble, shoot, look for the open man. Him playing on one side and me on the other, I really think we can combine and score a lot of goals this year.”