Youngster Alphonso Davies impresses in MLS debut for Whitecaps

Orlando City's Kevin Alston, left, and Vancouver Whitecaps' Alphonso Davies vie for the ball during the second half in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday July 16, 2016. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

VANCOUVER—The chatter in the stands at BC Place was so loud it was audible even from up in the press box.

"He’s fifteen," said one fan—drawing out the "teen"—as he rose to his feet for a better view. "Soixante-sept," shouted another, pointing out, in French, which jersey to pay attention to—No. 67.

"Fifteen years old," exclaimed another fan a few seats over, sounding so incredulous he had to repeat it. "Fifteen!"

The crowd was abuzz over Alphonso Davies, the 15-year-old winger/forward who’d just made his way onto the pitch for his Major League Soccer debut.

Davies, whom the Vancouver Whitecaps had signed to an MLS contract the day before, entered the match versus Orlando City SC in the 77th minute. The game was tied 2–2, and minutes after coming on, the Liberia-born, Edmonton-raised teenager nearly put his team ahead.

While the score would remain unchanged, the arrival of Davies was a thrilling scene in an already lively match—even if the home team didn’t perform well enough to earn three points.

"It was really a great experience," Davies said afterwards in his first post-game interview as an MLS player. And then—as if unaware that he was the real story of the night—he laid out the situation.

"As you know, it’s not my first time playing with the team," he explained (Davies had made four appearances with the first team in the Amway Canadian Championship in June). "But it’s my first time in an MLS game, against a good MLS opponent, and they really showed that they’re a great team."

Asked whether he was nervous before coming on, Davies said he wasn’t. Speaking to reporters, he seemed relaxed and cheerful, entirely unperturbed by all the hype surrounding him.

Playing on a bigger stage is an adjustment, of course. "Definitely I feel like I’m being overpowered, ’cause they’re much stronger, bigger than me," said the five-foot-10, 155-pounder, explaining that Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson had instructed him to go out and try to make a difference in the game. "I tried that, but unfortunately it didn’t go in the net," he added with a laugh.

While Davies didn’t manage to score, he certainly did impress.

Robinson, who said the team would be happy to take the one point "because we didn’t play very well," praised his newcomer, who is now the youngest active player in the league.

"He was great. He brought a little bit of energy," Robinson said, noting that some of his players had looked tired, having played three games in one week.

While some of the Whitecaps were fatigued, they weren’t the only ones. Orlando is in the midst of a three-game road trip, and the team was coming off a 2–0 loss to the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday. They’re also a depleted squad, with several key players out due to injury—including Kaká (The team was also missing Brek Shea due to suspension).

Although some fans at a sold-out BC Place might have been disappointed to learn that the Brazilian luminary Kaká did not make the trip up north, there was no shortage of excitement in a game whose momentum swung wildly between both teams.

Orlando took an early lead in the 14th minute courtesy of Julio Baptista, but the Whitecaps evened the score in the 35th minute as Orlando goalkeeper Joe Bendik managed to save a strike from Vancouver’s Masato Kudo but couldn’t prevent Nicolas Mezquida from heading in the rebound. Vancouver would take the lead in the 43rd minute, with Kudo picking up where he left off back in May, when he’d scored his first MLS goal days before a horrific on-field collision that put him out of action for more than two months.

In the second half, Canadian striker Cyle Larin evened the score for Orlando, notching his ninth goal of the season. The 21-year-old had scored at BC Place before, though in that case—playing for the Canadian men’s national team in a World Cup qualifier versus Honduras—Larin had been part of the home team.

Orlando, while a weakened team, were a fierce rival, and they nearly took the lead after being awarded a penalty, which Baptista missed terribly, covering his face in his hands after sending the ball high over the goal.

Robinson, while happy to come away with something from the game, did acknowledge that his team had once again "missed chances."

The match may have been good entertainment—with thrilling moments on both sides—but Vancouver’s sloppy defending continues to cause problems. If the team keeps conceding goals at this pace, they risk missing the playoffs in a very tight Western Conference.

The good news, on Saturday at least, came in the form of promising performances from a few individuals—Mezquida and Kudo especially, and Davies, too.

The teenager said he expects to see more minutes so long as he continues to put in the hard work. With his parents waiting nearby, he noted how happy he’d been for them to witness his debut in person.

"It was really special for me because family is a big part of my life," he said. "I really look up to my parents to guide me. They treat me well, they give me good food to eat."

Only when asked how much his life has changed in a short time did Davies show his age.

"It’s changed big-time ’cause now I wanna go out, have fun with my friends, but I gotta also take in that I’m playing at the MLS level and I have to represent the club," he said. "I can’t go out and fool around, cause trouble anymore," he added, laughing.

Robinson, for his part, is wary of hyping up the kid, who, as the coach has stated repeatedly, still has a lot of learning to do.

"Alphonso coming in provided a great spark," Robinson said. "Obviously he was brought on to try and affect the attacking end of the pitch, and he did that. But let’s not get carried away."

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