VANCOUVER, BC – What a difference a year makes.
At this time in 2015, Alphonso Davies was still honing his craft with the Vancouver Whitecaps FC Residency program after making the move from Edmonton in August.
Playing professionally was a dream more than anything else.
Little did he know that in just 12 months’ time he’d be looking back on a year that saw him sign his first professional contract, debut in Major League Soccer at the age of 15, and establish himself as one of the most promising young talents in the club – and country.
Asked to describe the last year in one word, Davies said it was “fun.”
Boy, was it ever.
It all started on January 30, when Whitecaps FC announced a 38-man traveling roster for their preseason training camp and friendlies in Tucson, Arizona.
There he was, #67 – the youngest player on the list.
Surely, this Davies kid was just there for training. He wouldn’t actually play, right?
On February 3, Carl Robinson threw Davies onto the field in the second half of Vancouver’s preseason opener against Seattle Sounders FC. Just a few minutes after entering the match, the youngster took an elbow to the face that left him with a bloody mouth.
The ‘Caps weren’t happy – and they let their Cascadia foes know.
“That made me feel like they have my back and they’re my family,” Davies said.
It was his “welcome to the pros” moment and he only kicked on from there. Davies went on to appear in all three of Vancouver’s preseason matches in Tucson, and even set up Marco Bustos for the game-winning-goal in their Tucson finale vs. Houston Dynamo.
Davies’ performance in the preseason helped him earn a pro contract with WFC2, which made him the youngest player in the United Soccer League. After starting for Canada’s U-20s in an upset victory over Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford and the England U-20s, the Edmonton resident then made his pro debut with WFC2 on April 2. That’s where he started the season, scoring two goals in 11 appearances.
Admittedly, Davies’ time in the USL was vital to his development.
“It helped me big time,” Davies said. “Where I’m trying to get, it’s a step up. Playing at WFC2, it’s similar to MLS. They’re faster, quicker, they move the ball. It’s been eye-opening.”
So too was Davies’ rapid rise to the first team.
He made his first-team debut on June 1 in the first leg of the Canadian Championship semifinal at Ottawa Fury FC, before earning his first start in the second leg at BC Place. While he didn’t score, he dazzled the home crowd with a couple stepovers before curling one off the far post.
The fact that Davies even appeared in a game for the first team this year was a surprise to many – let alone starting one and then eventually signing an MLS contract in July. He said it took him about a month to really start getting comfortable with the big boys.
There were some lessons learned along the way.
“I forgot, I did not know that we’re not allowed to wear sandals to the training ground,” Davies said. “I wore sandals, and [Pa-Modou Kah] looked down when I was putting on my boots, and he just let me have it. He was just saying, ‘You’re a professional, you shouldn’t be wearing sandals.’ He wanted me to be better, to be more professional, in a good way.”
In a way, Davies felt like he was living two different lives this year.
At home and school, he said he can turn into a “15-year-old goof” at times. But with the ‘Caps, he tried to keep things professional – aside from the sandals, that is.
“You could say I’m a loud, outgoing guy at times,” he said. “But with these guys, I’m with fathers so I try to keep it calm and mellow.”
That wasn’t necessarily the case on the pitch.
The 5-foot-10, 152-pound midfielder certainly wasn’t afraid to mix it up with his bigger and stronger opponents – even if that wasn’t necessarily his intention.
“I think I made some of them mad when I started being physical,” he said. “They’re like, ‘Why is this 15 year old trying to push him around? I’m going to give him a lesson.’ I don’t do it on purpose. I’m just trying to win the ball.”
“Like in that Seattle game, that first tackle, I saw the ball and then he took a touch and I went through him,” he added. “I was like, ‘Oh no. I hope I don’t get a card.’”
Davies went on to make eight MLS appearances, culminating with a Man of the Match performance on October 2 against Seattle. That game in particular, which saw Davies draw a penalty with a powerful run down the flank, is when things started to become real for the kid they call “Fonzie.”
“After that game, I went home and saw the highlights and saw the one run I made,” said Davies, who also scored the goal that sent Vancouver to the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals a few weeks prior. “After that, I just got really happy.”
“The whole family called me after the game,” he continued. “They said, ‘We’re really proud of you. Really happy with what you’re doing. And just keep your head level, keep your feet on the ground, and keep doing what you’re doing.’”
Davies said he gets that message a lot – from his parents and those around the team.
He knows they’re right.
“When an article comes out about me, I just read it and leave it alone after that,” said Davies, who captained and scored with Canada's U-17s last month. “I don’t really pay too much attention to it because I don’t want to get distracted … Once my head starts getting too big, I might be going up and down. I just want to keep it steady.”
Now 16, Davies knows he has a long way to go. He plans on spending the offseason working on his right foot, decision making, and speed of play. Then, like everyone else, he’ll be back with the ‘Caps in the preseason trying to fight for a regular place in Robinson’s lineup.
What a difference a year makes.