#BigPhilMustPlay (Benjamin Massey/Eighty Six Forever)
In the 2011 Major League Soccer season, Philippe Davies has played zero minutes.
Davies is a bright prospect. He's still just twenty years old and has recorded over twenty caps for the Canadian U-17 and U-20 teams. He was probably the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency's most consistent and often its best player at the USL PDL level despite playing a more defensive, box-to-box role than what he's used to. At age nineteen, Davies was good enough for 1,417 minutes in the USSF D2 with a side boasting an excellent, deep midfield. He was the team's first home-grown player signing in Major League Soccer. He's a talented playmaker on a team that's needed playmaking. He's played most of his professional games as a right winger on a team desperate for one.
Earlier today, well-traveled Vancouver Whitecaps fan Zachary Meisenheimer started up probably the first Twitter campaign Philippe Davies has ever been the subject of when he said, simply, #BigPhilMustPlay. It's a call that's been echoes around the Whitecaps Twitter community: fans frustrated in the team's lack of midfield creativity, fans who think we could use Davies on the wing, and fans who just can't believe that the Whitecaps haven't played a single Canadian since Russell Teibert's final game August 7 against the Chicago Fire.
The likes of Peter Vagenas have ruined our central midfield while Shea Salinas has grabbed a seldom-challenged hold on our right wing spot despite being of marginal value. We've seen Davies in Reserves and Residency matches: he hasn't put on seventy-five pounds, he hasn't gotten into fights with coaches, he isn't wearing a knee brace the size of Canadian Soccer Jesus. He's looked good. He's gotten onto the bench, where he's watched older, probably inferior Americans take game time which could have gone to him. He hasn't griped in public and if he's had any words in public they haven't gotten out. He's classily waited for his chance, and that chance should come.
The Whitecaps only have three Canadians on their MLS roster, the league minimum. Alain Rochat isn't actually Canadian and Russell Teibert is out for the rest of the season with a toe injury. Phil Davies is our only hope. He must play.
I've called for Davies to play in the past. Back in March (March!), I wrote:
Davies has a playmaker's instinct. He strikes the ball very well both in open play and off set pieces. His accuracy sometimes isn't the greatest, and I'll be the first to admit he missed his share of crosses or blasted the ball wide a few times too many last season, but you could see it improve as the year wore on. He plays a sensible, conservative style that emphasizes intelligence over brash risk-taking, and if he does make a mistake he'll try to get back and play some defense. He's not a transcendent player, but as a 19-year-old last season he was one of the five best wide midfielders in the USSF D2. And that was while playing out of position.
Almost every Whitecaps fan who's seen Davies play in the past two years is a fan of his. His time in USL PDL has improved his two-way game; while we obviously need to see how he'll handle MLS-calibre opposition he's obviously advanced in terms of holding the ball, marking enemy midfielders, and playing a complete midfield role as opposed to his former attack-or-bust style.
So playing Davies is important for the Whitecaps on the field. A 20-year-old midfielder who's popular, skilled, and improving? Somebody who fills weaknesses in the lineup and who'll at least bring more to this team than Peter Vagenas? The fact that Davies keeps sitting is a minor scandal. It's arguably too blind to count as "short-sighted". It gives ammunition to critics who accuse Tom Soehn of anti-Canadianism, preferring mediocre old Americans over potentially useful young Canadians.
It's also important for those of us who value Canadian soccer. Reports from Costa Rican tabloids is that another young player who came up through the Canadian youth ranks, Keven Aleman, will defect to the Costa Rican U-20 national team. Costa Rica is a better soccer country than Canada but it's hardly a World Cup contender and their soccer association is probably more dysfunctional than Canada's. Every born-and-bred Canadian, like Davies, who gets his fair chance is one more Canadian who'll play for Canada, as well as one more Canadian who'll inspire youngsters and show them that wearing the Maple Leaf doesn't have to be a second choice. Even if Davies never becomes a national team regular, if he's playing every day in MLS he'll still be representing Canada to the rest of CONCACAF and putting the lie to old stories about Canadians "not getting opportunities".
Playing Philippe Davies would also be something for the fans. He's a popular player, one who always has time to chat with the supporters after a game. He's active on Twitter and approachable in general. Davies, in short, is one of the good ones in spite of the way the organization has yanked him around this year. It's no coincidence that it's Davies benefiting from this outflow of support.
Vancouver's final game this year is being marketed as "Fan Appreciation Night". Well, let's hope the Whitecaps appreciate the fans, their players, and the value of one of Canada's best young midfielders. Play Philippe Davies.