TORONTO – Canadian soccer’s great young hope in Canada’s biggest media market promised to create a ton of buzz.
Instead, you could hear the neighbourhood traffic from inside BMO Field on Tuesday afternoon as Alphonso Davies practised with his Vancouver Whitecaps teammates ahead of Wednesday’s Canadian Championship final second-leg match versus Toronto FC. Davies, in case you hadn’t heard, recently made headlines when he signed with German outfit Bayern Munich as part of a transfer deal that could surpass $20 million when all is said and done. Davies will finish out the current Major League Soccer season before making the move to Germany later this year.
Canadian players don’t get sold for that kind of money, never mind teenagers who have spent their entire careers in MLS – and they certainly don’t get picked up by Bayern, one of the biggest clubs in the world. But the 17-year-old Davies is by all accounts the real deal. He is one of the most exciting prospects this country has ever produced, offering genuine hope to a long-suffering national men’s team program that will try to make a splash at the 2026 FIFA World Cup that will see games played on Canadian soil.
What a pity then that Davies’ arrival in Toronto flew almost completely under the radar. You’d have a thought a player of his calibre, and with the move to Bayern still fresh in the news, that a large contingent of reporters would be clamouring to talk to him and see what all the fuss was about. But Davies quietly went through his paces during Tuesday’s training session under the baking summer sun with only four local journalists – from three media outlets – watching on.
It was a stark reminder of how difficult it is for a soccer story to move the media dial in Canada, even during the dog days of summer when there is no NHL hockey being played, the country’s lone baseball team is tanking, and there are no Olympic Games.
Part of the problem of telling the remarkable tale of this equally remarkable teenager, who was born to Liberian parents in a refugee camp in Ghana before the family moved to Canada and settled in Edmonton when he was five years old, is Davies himself. If he is to become an international star, and bring Canadian soccer to the forefront as so many hope, it will most likely have to be entirely based on his performances on the field, rather than from his personal brand off of it.
Bluntly, he’s not the greatest quote. He gives incredibly short and uninteresting answers, he’s not particularly articulate (who among us was when we were 17?), and he seems to genuinely have very little to say. If there is a personality in there somewhere, it’s well hidden.
That’s not meant to be a criticism of Davies – it’s simply the way it is. Although blessed with God-given talent, he’s still your typical teenager who is trying to figure out how to deal with the fact that people are interested in what he thinks.
Asked on Tuesday about the pressure that comes with making a move from MLS to one of the top leagues in club soccer, Davies simply replied, “No pressure. I don’t feel any pressure. I just want to go out there [and] have fun.”
He later added: “I go out there, like other players, and play the game I love.”
The game. It’s all about the game for the kid, even at this stage when he is about to make the most important and exciting move of his career. The incredible focus he has shown since making his professional debut as a 15-year-old with the Whitecaps is one of the reasons he’s off to Europe, and why he has the potential of becoming one of the top Canadian soccer stars of all time.
Success has come early and often for Davies, but Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson maintains it has not gone to the young Canadian’s head. There’s no ego there, with Robinson calling Davies “a sponge” because he is so eager to learn as much as he can.
“He’s exactly the same person. People who know him will tell you his feet are on the ground. … His feet have remained firmly on the ground and if they weren’t I’d bring him back down to earth,” Robinson stated.
The Welsh coach has mentored Davies both on and off the field, letting him make mistakes, and trying not to control his young star’s every move. Robinson only comes down hard on him when he thinks it’s necessary, using such teaching moments to impart his wisdom like any parent would do with their son.
“I have a daughter who’s younger than him, so I know how to handle him,” Robinson quipped.
Davies, by all accounts, appreciates the fatherly advice, listening intently to what Robinson had to say when he pulled him aside towards the end of Tuesday’s training session. He hung on Robinson’s every word, absorbing his coach’s advice, indeed, just like a sponge.
Before going back to the locker room, Davies quickly signed autographs and took photos with some kids who watched practice, and briefly chatted with reporters.
His duties done for the afternoon, Davies quietly walked down the player tunnel at BMO Field by himself. Just another quiet day in the life of a budding Canadian soccer star.