Alphonso Davies was 13 years old when Vancouver Whitecaps FC started tracking him.
It was Marco Bossio, head of the St. Nicholas Soccer Academy in Edmonton, who first alerted Whitecaps FC Residency technical director Craig Dalrymple to the youngster’s potential.
The ‘Caps have a good relationship with the academy.
Every year, Bossio brings his players to Vancouver for visits. A number of players from the academy had previously joined Whitecaps FC Residency, a full-time, fully-funded player development program that recruits players across the country, and Bossio felt that Davies could be the next one.
So the ‘Caps started their scouting process.
Over a six-month period, they would invite Davies to Vancouver for two trials, recommend him to Canada Soccer for a U-15 Identification Camp where they would scout him further, and make a trip to Edmonton to watch him in his own environment and meet with his parents, before offering him a placement in the Residency program.
Then, it was a matter of working with his parents and youth coaches to find the right time to bring him to Vancouver. That wasn’t a formality, either.
Davies’ mother, Victoria, was hesitant at first.
“At that time, he was 14,” she told me. “I was afraid. I know I had seen some kids sometimes on TV what are they doing, on the street, what are they doing. I don’t want him to become a bad boy. So I told him, he’s not leaving until maybe he’s 16 or 17. He can go. But he promised me. He said I’m going to be the same. I will not go to Vancouver and change. I will make you guys proud. Let me go.”
After speaking to Dalrymple and learning more about the Whitecaps FC program, it was agreed that Davies would finish the school year in Edmonton and move to Vancouver in August 2015.
This, of course, was all happening behind the scenes.
At that point, I had never heard of Davies. Not many had. I only started hearing some whispers about him towards the end of 2015. Someone said to me: “This kid could be playing in Major League Soccer rightnow.” My response?
Less than a year later, he was playing in Major League Soccer.
And so began a rapid ascent to stardom that saw Davies become the youngest goalscorer in the history of the United Soccer League, CONCACAF Champions League, CONCACAF Gold Cup, Canadian Championship, Canadian national team, and Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
It wasn’t long before Davies become one of the most sought-after teenagers in the world.
And on Wednesday, after months of speculation, it was announced that Whitecaps FC have transferred Davies to FC Bayern Munich for an MLS record-breaking fee. And the best part? Davies will play out the rest of the season in Vancouver before joining the Bundesliga giants in January. This is a move that had to happen to help Davies reach his full potential.
He deserves the opportunity to test himself against the world’s best. He’s earned it.
While I may have been a skeptic initially, I quickly learned that this this kid had something. I remember the first time I saw him play. I’ll never forget it – partly because it was my birthday.
February 3, 2016.
We were in Tucson, Arizona for Vancouver’s MLS training camp and Davies – still a member of the club’s Residency Program and now 15 years old – was invited to join. Surely, he was only there for the experience of being around the team. Surely, he wouldn’t actually play, right?
Carl Robinson threw Davies onto the field towards the end of Vancouver’s first preseason game against Seattle. And just a few minutes later, he took an elbow to the face that left him with a bloody mouth. Ouch. OK, maybe it was too soon for the kid. Maybe this wasn’t a great idea.
Those were the thoughts going through my head, at least.
I was mistaken. Again.
Davies quickly got patched up, returned to the field, and ended up playing all three of Vancouver’s preseason games in Tucson. He didn’t dominate, but he didn’t look out of place either. He even picked up an assist in the final game of that trip, forcing a turnover in midfield and flying down the right wing before playing a throughball to fellow Whitecaps FC Residency grad Marco Bustos.
That’s when I knew.
But I had to bite my tongue. We all did.
Robinson and the club – to their credit – were very protective of the youngster. Media requests were seldom granted. And there were a lot of them. It was almost a daily occurrence, in fact.
It’s not that Davies wouldn’t speak to media – he has been interviewed by VICE, CBC’s The National, TSN, Cabbie, CTV, Global, TSN 1040, The Athletic, The Vancouver Sun/The Province, Canadian Press, MLSsoccer.com – and many other outlets. Rather, Robinson and the club didn’t want to bog him down with media every week when there was a lot going on in his life, such as high school, learning how to drive, learning how to become a professional, and, well, being a kid.
“We as the media always look to say, can we get a chat with Alphonso Davies? And Carl Robinson was always like, not yet, not now. We want to protect the kid. And I understand that,” said TSN analyst and former Canadian international Nick Dasovic. “I’ve seen first-hand, as Carl has, kids that have been these superstars at 17-18 and at 20 years they’re done. So what Carl’s done to the young man to protect him in a sense has been the right thing and it’s worked out.”
It sure has.
Robinson certainly deserves credit for the way he has brought Davies along. I mean, how many coaches out there would give a 15-year-old his first start in a must-win, Cup game (like Robinson did for Davies in the second leg of the 2016 Canadian Championship semifinal), or start a 16-year-old away at Mexican giants Tigres UANL in what was being billed as one of the biggest games in club history? Robinson did that too in last year’s CONCACAF Champions League semifinal.
The ‘Caps paved the way for Davies. They gave him the opportunities to showcase his abilities. And he took them with both feet. Now, he’s going to be given the opportunity to play for one of the best teams in the world. And I, for one, couldn’t be happier for him.
This is a special talent – and a special young man.
That was hammered home when I paid a visit to his hometown of Edmonton, Alberta last year, where I had the opportunity to interview his parents and youth coaches for a documentary we put together on the family’s journey to Canada from a civil war in Liberia and refugee camp in Ghana.
During that trip, I learned that Davies took care of his younger siblings before he was even a teenager, changing their diapers and feeding them when his parents – who couldn’t afford a babysitter – had to work in the evenings. I learned that Davies comes from a blue-collar family who value education, hard work, and humility. And I learned that, despite all the hype, he’s still the same kid he’s always been.
And long may that continue.