Person of Interest: Whitecaps teenager Alphonso Davies turning heads

James Sharman and Gavin Day talk about the good start by Team Canada defeating French Guiana 4-2 and the positive aspects of their game against a less than difficult opponent.

Canadian Alphonso Davies is a budding young star for the Vancouver Whitecaps who is not only drawing rave reviews across Major League Soccer, he’s also garnering interest from some of the biggest clubs in England’s Premier League.

And here’s the kicker — he’s only 16 years old.

Here’s a closer look at the talented teenager:

WHY IS HE IN THE NEWS?

Davies was a member of the Canadian youth program dating back to 2014, playing for Canada’s under-17 and under-20 teams. However, Ghana-born forward wasn’t eligible to play for Canada at senior level, as he was not a Canadian citizen — he just had permanent resident status.

That all changed last month when he finally received his Canadian passport, and he celebrated by earning his first cap in a 2-1 win over Curacao in friendly staged in Montreal.

Octavio Zambrano named Davies to his 23-man roster for this month’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, and the Whitecaps star quickly repaid the faith showed in him by the Canadian coach. On Friday night in New Jersey, Davies started and scored two goals for Canada – in just his second national team appearance – to help the Reds earn a 4-2 win over French Guiana.

Davies broke in alone on goal in the 60th minute and scored through the goalkeeper’s legs, showing great patience and composure as he finished off the breakaway chance to give Canada a 3-0 lead. After French Guiana scored twice to make a game of it, Davies decided the game when he scored with five minutes left in regulation with a sharp finish on a setup from teammate Anthony Jackson-Hamel.

WHAT MAKES HIM SO SPECIAL?

For someone so young, he demonstrates a lot of composure and maturity.

He’s also a dynamic and fleet-footed attacker, using his pace and skill on the ball to take on defenders one-on-one, and create a bit of magic with his probing runs.

Solid in possession, the youngster combines creativity, mobility and strength into a tantalizing package.

CLUB CAREER

Born in a refugee camp in the central region of Ghana to Liberian parents, Davies and his family fled the country to escape the civil war. They ended up in a refugee camp in Ghana before eventually settling in Edmonton when Davies was five. Davies headed out west two years ago when he joined the Whitecaps’ youth residency program as a 14-year-old.

He turned out for the Whitecaps farm club in the third-tier United Soccer League, and signed a pro contract with the MLS team last summer. At 15, Davies became the second-youngest player to take the field in league history. Vancouver coach Carl Robinson brought Davies along slowly, though, restricting him to just eight appearances, and just two starts, as a 15-year-old last season.

Having turned 16 last November, he featured in the club’s opener of the 2017 MLS regular season, and has made 13 appearances, six as a starter. Robinson continues to be cautious in how he’s used Davies, but it appears to be only a matter of time before the young Canadian breaks out and becomes a regular starter for the Whitecaps.

Davies shines in Canada’s win over French Guiana

Sportsnet’s James Sharman breaks down Canada’s win over French Guiana in their CONCACAF opener due in large part to the breakout performance by 16-year-old Alphonso Davies.

INTEREST FROM ENGLAND

Robinson recently sad every club in England’s Premier League is aware of Davies. Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal are reported to be closely monitoring him.

But Davies won’t be making the moving abroad just yet—FIFA guidelines prohibit him from being transferred to a foreign club until he is at least 18 years old.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING ABOUT HIM

“He’s probably the most exciting kid— he’s still a kid— that I’ve ever played with and seen with my own eyes. By far he’s the most technically gifted, humble, modest young man that I think is going to go from strength to strength.” – Canadian midfielder Scott Arfield.

“You saw it. He has pace, he has ability, and he’s very calm and mature for his age. He’s able to do things that at his age I wasn’t able to master. It’s great to see that he’s able to be an x-factor for our team.” – Canadian midfielder Patrice Bernier.

“What’s most impressive for his age is just the composure and belief that he belongs on the field and that he can make a difference. He is mature beyond his years. … I enjoy watching him as a player. If he’s on the field against us, we’ll have to be aware of him and his strengths and make sure we’re accounting for them.” – Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney.

“For a young player he has a lot of really good starting points. The way he can move with the ball and put defenders on the wrong foot is pretty special.” – Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley

HE SAID IT

“When I come on the pitch, we’re all equal. Off the pitch, yes, I’m 16. But on [the pitch], I don’t consider myself a 16-year-old.” – Davies told The Province newspaper

Sportsnet.ca will have in-depth coverage of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Gavin Day and James Sharman will be onsite and following Canada as it progresses through the tournament, providing regular articles and video reports. You can also follow both of them on Twitter for regular Gold Cup updates.