VANCOUVER – The Major League Soccer record-breaking transfer of Canadian sensation Alphonso Davies to Bayern Munich from the Vancouver Whitecaps looks great for nearly everyone.
The 17-year-old attacking midfielder goes to one of the top clubs in the world and will be rich, although not as wealthy as Whitecaps majority owner Greg Kerfoot, who reportedly pockets about $20 million from the German club plus 15 per cent of whatever future fee Bayern may collect on another Davies transfer.
The move to Europe provides Davies the platform to increase the profile of both Canadian soccer and MLS. The Whitecaps, who lifted Davies from Edmonton when the Ghanaian-born player was 14, finally have a glittering example of their development program and someone whose rise becomes a permanent part of the franchise’s legacy.
It looks like a win for everyone. Except for fervent Whitecaps fans whose loyalty – and ticket money – has been repaid with one playoff victory since the team joined MLS in 2011.
Although it’s believed Davies will finish this season in North America, partly because he’s ineligible to play for a club outside Canada until his 18th birthday in November, Vancouver is losing its best and most exciting player at a time when the Whitecaps are going backwards.
Everybody knew this was coming for Davies. He made his Whitecaps debut at 15, scored three goals for Canada and won the Golden Boot at the CONCACAF Gold Cup at age 16, and this season has been not only the best player in Vancouver but one of the best in MLS.
With power and speed to back up his immense skill and cultured left foot, Davies has always looked destined for something greater than MLS. Truly, he looks capable of becoming the best player in Canadian soccer history. So, nobody expected him to spend his career or even some of his prime years on artificial turf in Vancouver.
All soccer fans in Canada should be happy for Davies – who, unlike former Bayern recruit Owen Hargreaves did not shun his own national team or Canadian accent – even as they prepare to mourn his loss to a far bigger stage.
But the only way this deal works for fans on the West Coast is if ownership reinvests its $20 million on the Whitecaps and spends the money necessary to acquire a marquee scorer and elite playmaker. Just spending a little money to keep the good players they have would help, too.
As the Whitecaps, minus Davies, stagger into the second leg of their Canadian Championship semifinal Wednesday against the Montreal Impact at B.C. Place Stadium, Vancouver has won just three of 12 MLS games since April and fallen four points adrift of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Bleeding goals and easy to play against, the Whitecaps are almost unrecognizable from the team that finished third in the regular season a year ago.
Most of the positional downgrades that have occurred on the field can be traced to thriftiness.
The Whitecaps didn’t like popular goalie David Ousted’s salary expectations and began phasing him out before the end of last season. They balked at the pay demands of stout central defender Tim Parker, a rising MLS star who Vancouver had drafted and developed, and traded the 25-year-old to New York. The Whitecaps declined the contract option on Matias Laba and the dependable holding midfielder decided to return home to Argentina. Leading scorer Fredy Montero left after last season when the Whitecaps’ loan deal with his Chinese club expired. And the team still hasn’t replaced playmaking midfielder Pedro Morales, who left two years ago.
The spine of the Whitecaps, the middle of their lineup, has become weak and vulnerable. The transfer money from the sale of Davies could fix a lot of problems.
“I’ll continue to work with the players that I’ve got,” coach Carl Robinson said Tuesday after the Whitecaps practised without Davies, who was on his way to sign his Bayern contract. “That’s probably a question for above me. Part of my job was to help coach, with my staff, and develop the boy and then let him go if that’s the case.
“If we’ve got a 17-year-old that we think is a wonderful talent that one of the top teams in the world wants, why should we stand in his way? That’s not fair. Did we want to sell him? No, I want him to play with me because he’s a big success on the field. But you can’t be selfish at this moment.”
No one is arguing with that. But if the money earned by developing and selling players isn’t re-invested, then what exactly are you selling to your own fans?
“We do lose our best player of the season; there’s no secret,” midfielder Russell Teibert, the longest-serving Whitecap, said after training. “He’s been electric. Fans enjoy watching him, we enjoy watching him. It’s very hard to replace a player like that. But one player isn’t going to win us a Canadian championship and one player isn’t going to get us into the (MLS) playoffs.
“I think we’re really going to see the guys who really want to play for this club, and play for this crest and play for the Vancouver Whitecaps … the guys who really want to sweat and bleed for this team. The club needs that.”
The Whitecaps haven’t had enough of those guys this season, and Davies was the best of them.