To say a lot has changed in the life of Alphonso Davies since he last played a meaningful game in his hometown is something approaching epic understatement.
Since he left Edmonton in 2015 to sign with the Vancouver Whitecaps organization, he’s seemingly crammed a career’s worth of highlights into a half-dozen years.
And he just turned 21 on Tuesday.
Second-youngest player in MLS history. A record US$22-million transfer to Bayern Munich. First Canadian men’s international to win the Champions League. Bundesliga rookie of the year. The first male soccer player to win the Lou Marsh Award as Canadian athlete of the year.
But that “career” will come full circle next week when Davies, who was born in a Ghanaian refugee camp before his family moved to Edmonton when he was 5, steps onto the pitch at Commonwealth Stadium as the Canada men’s national team resumes its quest to qualify for a second World Cup.
“For me personally, it’s like a homecoming game,” Davies said on a Zoom call from Munich on Thursday. “Ever since I left Edmonton, this is the first time I’ll be training, playing in front of the city.”
John Herdman’s team, unbeaten and sitting third out of eight teams through the first six matches of the 14-game final round of the CONCACAF region’s World Cup qualifying campaign, faces Costa Rica on Nov. 12 and Mexico on Nov. 16. The top three qualify automatically, while the fourth moves into a playoff against a team from another region.
While all of Canada’s home games in this round have been played at Toronto’s 30,000-seat BMO Field, the move west to Edmonton gives more Canadians a chance to see Davies and Co., with Commonwealth Stadium’s capacity almost double that of BMO. The initial release of 35,000 tickets for each game sold out within a week, so more tickets have been made available.
And while Davies is looking forward to playing in front of everyone who comes out, he is doubly excited to play in front of his parents, Debeah and Victoria, who haven’t seen him play on Canadian soil since his last game for the Whitecaps more than three years ago. They were to see him in Toronto for September’s qualifier against El Salvador, but Davies picked up a knee injury in the previous game against the United States and had to fly back to Germany for treatment.
“Unfortunately I couldn’t play that game because of a little knock that I had, but I’m excited to have my family in the stands,” he said. “I’m excited for them to see how I play with the national team.”
With crowds of about 40,000 expected for each game, Canada will be hoping to put on the kind of show it put on last month against Panama, when Herdman’s team rolled to a 4-1 win with Davies providing the exclamation mark with a highlight-reel goal.
First-time visitors to the facility, now known as the Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium, will surely be crossing their fingers for a more enthralling display than Davies recalls of his own initial visit there.
“The first time I was in there I went to go watch the Grey Cup. I don’t know what year it was, but it was a while ago,” Davies said. “I was in there for like five minutes and then I left because I had to go home. … It wasn’t really interesting to me.”
Davies, who said he somehow got in without a ticket, has been back to the stadium since, most notably for the Women’s World Cup in 2015. Two tournament matches were held there, including the opening game between Canada and China, which drew a crowd of 53,058. Davies says that first-hand experience leaves him in no doubt as to the authenticity of the soccer culture in his hometown.
“I feel like some people underestimate the soccer culture in Edmonton,” he said. “It is big. And you know, like I said before, I experienced it first-hand with the Women’s World Cup and seeing the stadium really come alive, and I’m excited to see it again.”
Though Davies has achieved almost everything in his club career with Bayern Munich, winning the treble of domestic league and cup to accompany the Champions League triumph over Paris Saint-Germain in 2019-20, the 21-year-old is fully cognizant that some players go their whole career without reaching a World Cup finals.
Very few of those players play for Munich, however. Star teammates such as Robert Lewandowski and Joshua Kimmich have both played in the World Cup, while Manuel Neuer, Thomas Muller and Benjamin Pavard have all won it.
While Davies’s exploits are helping to improve Canada’s standing, in both the world of soccer as well as the Bayern locker room, playing at the very pinnacle of the European game can seemingly be a cruel place at times, even for someone who has a standing invitation to hang out with Drake next time he’s in Toronto.
“It’s funny because, you know, all these guys play for big European countries, they’re in all these different tournaments,” Davies said. “It’s tough sometimes the jokes they make, and it’s all jokes, I understand that, but for me, sometimes I take it personally.
“Every time I go back home, I just want to prove to them that, you know, we’re getting better and better each and every time we play. For me the goal is to make it to a World Cup and hopefully face some of my teammates in the World Cup and show them that we can compete here with you guys as well.”
That journey continues next week in Edmonton, and will possibly make believers out of the majority of Canadians, even if the Bayern all-stars prove to be a tougher sell.