Playing for Vancouver Whitecaps has been ‘a dream come true’ for teen star Alphonso Davies

Gemma Karstens-Smith - The Canadian Press

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VANCOUVER – Alphonso Davies’ teenage years have been anything but normal.

The 17-year-old loves to play video games and frequently shares his life on Instagram, but he’s also balancing being a kid while being one of Canada’s most promising young soccer stars.

While some teens are consumed with thoughts of university applications and getting a driver’s licence, Davies is wrapping up his time with the Vancouver Whitecaps and preparing to join one of the world’s biggest soccer clubs, Bayern Munich.

Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Alphonso Davies laughs while talking to a teammate as he waits to begin an interview after MLS soccer practice in Vancouver, on Wednesday October 24, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

“It’s easy just being a kid because you play FIFA (video games) all day, stay up all night,” he said after training this week. “I can’t really do that anymore because if you don’t sleep, it’ll show on the field.”

The young midfielder has been a key part of the Whitecaps starting lineup this season, tallying 11 assists and six goals. Davies’ blazing speed and uncanny ability to control the ball have caught world-wide attention and made him the commissioner’s pick for the MLS all-star game in August.

He’s not yet old enough to vote, but he’s already part of a Nike ad campaign, a featured player in the newest version of his favourite video game, FIFA, and the subject of the largest-ever transfer in Major League Soccer.

In July, German soccer giant Bayern Munich agreed to a record-breaking US$22 million deal that will see Davies play for the team through 2023.

Relocating to Germany won’t be the teen’s his first international move.

Davies was born in a refugee camp in Ghana after his parents fled the Liberian civil war. His family immigrated to Canada when he was five, eventually settling in Edmonton, where his parents and siblings still live.

It was there that he was discovered by the Whitecaps’ recruiting staff and invited to join the club’s residency program.

“Me leaving Edmonton at 14, I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t know how far I’d make it. And every day I come to training, come to put in work, come here to stay here as long as possible,” Davies said, pausing to laugh as a ball sailed by.

“And now me leaving, the routine starts all over again. Going (to Germany) it’s the same thing — new area, new friends, new language. So you have to adapt quickly.”

Adapting — and thriving — in new environments hasn’t been a challenge for the young star, said Whitecaps general manager Bob Lenarduzzi.

Davies started out with the club’s most junior team but it quickly became clear that he needed to be challenged. He joined a more senior group and quickly outgrew that team, too. Soon, he was signing a contract to join the MLS squad.

“It was a rapid rise. And the thing that I found interesting was that every time he went to another level, it wasn’t like he was just another player,” Lenarduzzi said. “He just had an immediate impact. So clearly we had someone special.”

Davies made his MLS debut on July 16, 2016 when he was just 15 years old. That game marks his favourite memory of his time in the league.

“That changed my perspective on life,” Davies said. “Like, you get what you put in. So when I got the opportunity to play at a young age, it was something special.”

Soon, the teenage phenomenon was being talked about throughout the league.

Striker Kei Kamara said he heard of Davies’ talents long before he joined the Whitecaps and figured he must be “something special.”

When Kamara was traded to the team this year, the pair quickly developed a chemistry and friendship both on and off the field. They often assist on each other’s goals, then celebrate with choreographed dance moves.

“When I came here, it was like the little brother I could play professionally with,” Kamara said.

“I could just see that he’s a player who’s ready to learn. And when you have somebody, just a person who’s ready to learn … there’s just so much and so far they can go.”

Despite all the success and attention, Davies’ teammates said he’s remained incredibly down to earth.

It doesn’t seem like the teen really believes he’ll soon be playing with one of the biggest clubs in the world, Kamara said.

“He’s sitting there playing video games going ‘Oh, look at this guy!’ I’m happy for him and I’m happy that one day I’ll be able to say I played with one of the best players in the world,” he said.

Russell Teibert has been Davies teammate on both the Whitecaps and the Canadian men’s team for more than two years, and said it’s been an honour.

“It will be a big change not having him in the locker room next season, but I wish him the best. Because he’s such a good kid. And he’s been so humble this entire time,” he said.

“He’s put his heart and soul into (the Whitecaps) since he’s been here. There’s a reason why he’s going to one of the top clubs in the world. And we should all cherish this last game because he’s done so much good for this club, he’s put us on the map globally.”

The Whitecaps organization has always prided itself on developing young players and having Davies as a graduate shows the program’s success to the world, Lenarduzzi said.

“So what we need to do now is double down on that and ensure that we’re pushing … players through our program that will be solid MLS players and may have the opportunity to go abroad as a result,” he said.

“We would like nothing better than, come 2026, when Canada’s hosting the World Cup, have a significant group of Whitecaps players a part of that 2026 team.”

Davies’ story shows that young players not just in Canada but in the United States, too, don’t need to go abroad to reach soccer’s highest levels, Lenarduzzi said.

The Whitecaps general manager noted that Davies is still young, so his legacy is yet to be written.

“I have the feeling that, just like when he graduated from one level to the next (with the Whitecaps), he can do the same thing in Europe at one of the biggest clubs in the world,” Lenarduzzi said.

Davies isn’t sure yet when he’ll head to Germany and start training. The MLS season isn’t quite over yet, but when it is, the teen will return to Edmonton to spend a few weeks with his friends and family.

He’s already been in touch with one of his new teammates, defender Mats Hummels, and is looking forward to meeting others.

His current teammates have been bugging him to learn German, Davies said.

Teibert said he hasn’t bothered giving his friend any words of wisdom.

“Just keep doing what you’re doing, kid,” he said. “He’s done amazing up to this point and he’ll continue to do so.”

On Sunday, Davies will play his final match in MLS when the Whitecaps host the Portland Timbers.

He expects it to be an emotional game, with his parents and siblings watching from the crowd. Playing soccer in Vancouver has been a “dream come true,” Davies said.

“The last few months has been quite exciting, knowing that my final days are coming up,” he said. “So every time I step on that field, I just try to give my all, try to not hold anything back. I don’t want to leave Vancouver saying ‘Ah, I should have played this game better, I should have done this.’ So every time I step on the field, I just give my all and have fun.”

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