TORONTO – Alphonso Davies just had his biggest game in a Canada shirt to date.
Facing the United States in a Concacaf Nations League A group stage tilt, the Bayern Munich star, still just 18 years old, gave Canada’s regional rivals the sort of run for their money hitherto unseen in Canadian soccer’s recent history.
To call it a dominant performance would be an understatement; Davies was the clear bright spot, roaming freely up top with his 10 teammates stuck rigidly behind him in support. With fellow teen phenom Jonathan David to his right, Davies caused havoc and stretched the U.S. backline time and time again, and was rewarded for his efforts with the opening goal in an eventual 2-0 win – a historic 2-0 win – over the Stars and Stripes.
After the match, Davies said he had “millions of emotions running through” him. It was certainly his biggest goal in a Canada shirt.
When the 90 minutes of football came to its natural conclusion, and Canada celebrated this historic result – their first win over the United States in 34 years, Davies scoring the first goal against the Americans since 2007 – it was the young former Vancouver Whitecaps man whose name was put up in lights.
Though, as Canada coach John Herdman figured after the match, Davies “doesn’t need” the pressure that comes with being the leader, the figurehead, the biggest name, quite yet.
“He just needs to be a kid and enjoy it,” Herdman told reporters, post-match. “Let (Milan Borjan) take all the pressure, and Scotty Arfield. Just let Phonzie enjoy his football. We don’t need to put him up in lights.”
After the match, U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter tried to downplay Davies’ contributions, pointing to Herdman’s choice to utilize a four-man midfield diamond or box as the real reason for his team’s inability to get a hold of the tilt. He also credited a level of desire that Canada showed, one that his team couldn’t replicate, despite Berhalter insisting that the minimum he expects is for his team to match their opponent’s hunger.
On Davies, Berhalter simply offered that the 18-year-old created more chaos than clear-cut opportunities.
Perhaps he’s right, in the sense that Davies wasn’t potting shots left, right, and centre, though he did have one Arjen Robben-inspired left-footed look at goal, which Zach Steffen comfortably saved.
For 62 minutes, Davies, despite Herdman’s reservations, was the star man, befitting his nod in the 20-man shortlist of the 2019 European Golden Boy award, which he received earlier in the day.
“I don’t mind putting him up in lights, because I think the more we do, we challenge him, but at times he needs to be able to breath and just enjoy it,” Herdman continued. “Last night, I was talking to him about his childhood, and he was telling us, he just bought a BMX recently – he’s always wanted one – and I’m thinking, wow. It brings it right back down to earth for what this kid’s about.
“For Phonzie, it’s just about going out there and playing, son. Go do your thing. I saw that tonight.”
Davies looked a man possessed at times, making runs along the front line, but also tracking back at pace to recover as Canada’s swarm prevented the U.S. from building up, especially in midfield.
It’s all by Herdman’s design.
“What we asked from Alphonso? I showed him some of his clips with the Whitecaps, and we went back to his original days, when he got kicked, he gets straight back up, and when balls went in behind him, he’d recover and fight to get it back,” Herdman explained. “A little bit of that was missing, just that wanting to play free, and thinking he had to be in a structure. He was free tonight, and it was lovely to see.
“But, I also think the competition in that squad now, he can’t sit on his heels. We had (Lucas) Cavallini and (Junior) Hoilett on the bench …”
Indeed, for Davies, the work isn’t even close to being over. Canada still has another bout with the U.S. scheduled for Nov. 15 in Orlando, after all. With 2022 World Cup qualifying connotations underlining this rematch, Davies is focused only on the task at hand.
“We made history tonight, but our job is not done,” Davies said. “We play (the U.S.) again next month. Our focus is repeating what we did tonight in November.”