VANCOUVER – This is going to be one heckuva goodbye.
In the first game of the end of his time with the Vancouver Whitecaps – to cap a whirlwind week that saw storied Bayern Munich close a $22-million transfer for the 17-year-old winger – Alphonso Davies conjured two moments of brilliance Saturday so rare they perfectly demonstrated why he is so wanted in Europe and will be desperately missed in Major League Soccer.
Freed from the stress of his transfer uncertainty, the Canadian soccer sensation scored a pair of sublime goals and set up two others as the Whitecaps beat Minnesota United 4-2 and suddenly look capable of salvaging their Major League Soccer season.
Seriously, you couldn’t write it like this: a conquering hero – or hero about to go off and conquer – returning home to say goodbye, then scoring a pair of goals that everyone who saw them will remember forever.
"We know he’s a wonderful talent," Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson said. "We know he’s got ability, he’s got potential. But when he keeps playing like that, that’s not potential, that’s reality. I think the first 20 minutes was as bad as I’ve seen him play because I think the emotions of the week or the two weeks that he’s had, it takes its toll on young players. But I kept him on and I’m glad I did."
In the 56th minute of what had been a fairly dull game, Davies casually collected a turnover in midfield about 30 yards above the Minnesota goal. He turned and ran with the ball at three defenders. Davies faked a left-footed shot at the top of the penalty area, dragged the ball with the sole of his boot around Michael Boxall, knifed between two other defenders, then clipped a shot through goalie Bobby Shuttleworth to double Vancouver’s 1-0 lead.
In the 89th minute, after the Whitecaps had surrendered two late goals to turn a 3-0 celebration into a 3-2 nail-biter, Davies scored again – again brilliantly and again by evading three defenders – by curling in a shot from just inside the penalty area.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 29, 2018
"Yeah, it’s amazing," Davies told reporters. "Beginning of the week, I got signed to Bayern, as you all know. And then coming on the field with the club that took me in when I was little, I always try to help the team win.
"With all the big news going on, you know, and then coming back to Vancouver, I wanted it to be special. I think we went out there and we did our best."
After beating the Montreal Impact 2-0 on Wednesday night to erase a first-leg deficit and advance to the Canadian championship final against Toronto, then exploding offensively on Saturday and winning just their second MLS game since June 9, the Whitecaps suddenly look alive in the MLS playoff race.
Four points adrift of the playoff cutoff when the weekend began, and with just an 8.8 per cent chance of qualifying for the MLS Cup according to sportsclubstats.com, the Whitecaps seem reinvigorated and capable of surging as Davies powers the wave.
Yordy Reyna, with a play as impressive individually as were Davies’ goals, and Kei Kamara also scored for Vancouver. Davies’ setups gave him 10 assists in 21 games this season. Former Whitecap Pedro Morales holds Vancouver’s MLS record with 12 assists in 33 games in 2014.
"Phonzie will get the headlines tonight and rightly so again, but I thought Yordy was absolutely fantastic," Robinson said. "When you have nights like this, it’s important you enjoy them and take them in. It’s also important you remember it’s three points. We knew we needed to win this game. Anything other than a win, we knew it would be very, very difficult (to make the playoffs). And it is going to be very difficult for us."
Robinson said he was disappointed the Whitecaps scored four goals because they "could have scored six or seven."
It’s the two from Davies that no one who was at B.C. Place Stadium will forget. They are memories to be pulled out like snapshots and admired years from now when Davies is seen only on television, mostly early in the morning West Coast time, playing with and against the best soccer players in the world.
He is down to just nine more MLS games in Canada. It’s unlikely any of them could eclipse Saturday’s.