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What To Do With Alphonso Davies?

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The Whitecaps’ 16-year-old phenom continues to prove himself, but will we see more of his play as Vancouver pushes for the playoffs?

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Orlando City SC Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

I wouldn’t necessarily call this the “Summer of Alphonso Davies”, but the 16 year-old seems to be having himself a meteoric rise all over again.

An ascension so nice he’s doing it twice. But for the sequel? There’s an outside chance he’ll have a hand (or foot) in determining who will hoist the MLS Cup.

However, thinking that the Vancouver Whitecaps will even have a chance at the cup is assuming a lot, though it’s not unfair to think Davies will play a part. The level of his involvement may be predicated by the professional journey he’s taken so far.

It’s fair to say that Davies started 2016 unlike most teenagers. To recap: he signed his first professional soccer contract last February, became the youngest player to score in the USL for Whitecaps FC 2, and was promptly called up to the first-team Whitecaps, debuting last July and starting for the team two months later.

By the end of the season, Davies would end up making 15 appearances for the Whitecaps across all competitions (incidentally, this was the same number of appearances in 2016 made by our transferred DP, Octavio Rivero). Though he only tallied one goal, it was the one that clinched the Whitecaps a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League knock-out round.

But what would there be for an encore in 2017? For starters, Davies presently has made 25 appearances and scored 3 goals for the Whitecaps across all competitions, good enough for sixth-most on the team behind mainstays like David Ousted, Jordan Harvey, and Tim Parker.

However, what could arguably prove to be the launching pad for his professional career was Davies’ performance at the CONCACAF Gold Cup this summer.

After receiving his Canadian citizenship in June, Davies was quickly called up to the Canadian Men’s National Team for their Gold Cup roster, and in short order:

Not bad at all for his national team debut, particularly for a success-starved team aiming to co-host the World Cup in nine years.

And yet, he’s still only sixteen years old. For as many star-turning performances Davies is capable of providing, there’s still the possibility for what could be considered as youthful recklessness:

That kick out and subsequent red card concluded Davies’ six-minute contribution to the national team’s 2-0 victory over Jamaica in a friendly last week.

It was clearly a misguided decision to lash out, and during AFTN’s podcast last week, Zach Meisenheimer succinctly detailed a reasonable reaction to the play:

It was a foul, it was a poor play by (Damian Lowe)…so (Davies) reacted poorly. It was the ‘Red Mist’, it was a rush of blood to the head, and it was in the heat of the moment. It’s not a definitive of who he is as a player or a person.

And Davies’ own reaction? He immediately pulled his shirt over his head, walked off the pitch and subsequently put out an apology:

Without question there’s maturity in providing such an immediate apology, just as there’s a youthful exuberance when doing so with a meme.

The build-up and the block were classic Alphonso (you can watch the entirety of the play here, where he kept on pressing the back line until the ball popped loose, ultimately making something out of nothing. By comparison, his reaction to being hauled down by Lowe was absolutely uncharacteristic.

Nevertheless, what’s refreshing to know is how both his teams acknowledge that he has an immediate future on both the domestic and national levels, to the point where they actively discuss and consider his potential.

At a press conference prior to the friendly with Jamaica, Men’s National Team coach Octavio Zambrano noted the following:

I do [co-ordinate with Vancouver]. I have spoken with Carl on a number of occasions, with Bob Lenarduzzi and the people at the Whitecaps. We understand that the success of Alphonso is tied into what they do and what we do, together. There is some synergy there that is positive.

In a similar vein, Carl Robinson recently addressed the amount of playing time Davies has and will undertake, in an article at ESPNFC.com:

I sat him down and told him: Everyone wants to see Alphonso Davies play every minute of every game. I want to see Alphonso Davies play every minute of every game. But right now, he just can't, physically or mentally. We have to be very, very careful with the boy. I've seen plenty of players not reach their potential when they get too much, too soon.

And Davies understands all of this, remarking at the pre-friendly press conference how he’s, “OK with the current amount of work [he’s] getting,” from the Whitecaps, also adding that, “They're not trying to put too much pressure on me, make me tired or fatigued.”

Thankfully, everyone involved understands the underlying potential in Davies’ future and want nothing more than to help him develop and flourish as a footballer. For the moment, however, his progression will primarily be done by the Whitecaps.

In the same ESPN article, author Matt Pentz notes that despite how teams such as Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal have all had eyes on Davies, any international transfers will be unlikely due to FIFA’s Article 19, stating that a player cannot be transferred to a team in another country before his eighteenth birthday.

There are exceptions within the FIFA regulations, which can be found here, but the long and the short of it is that it’s all but guaranteed that Davies will be staying in the blue-and-white for two more seasons.

So it goes without saying that the talent possessed by Davies will be well looked after for some time, and those outside the club will spend the next few years wishing for a similar talent of their own.

But what will be done for the Whitecaps in the short-term?

Will Carl Robinson’s plans change as the Whitecaps push for this season’s playoffs? Should they?

Robinson has noted that he’s keeping a close eye on the minutes Davies has and will play. Of those 25 appearances he’s made this year, Davies has gone a full 90 only five times, and only once in six matches for the national team.

Davies can flat out play, that’s without question. We haven’t even completed his second season of professional soccer, and Davies has thoroughly demonstrated what he’s capable of on the pitch, and recently reaffirmed his quality to no end during the Gold Cup.

But would it be a betrayal of confidence, to the national team or to Davies himself, to add to his work load when pushing for a title?

Alphonso Davies is in Vancouver to play soccer, after all, and I get the feeling the Whitecaps will begin to rely on his strength with the ball at his feet far more than they have for much of this season. It may not be a massive change, but if the Whitecaps are to make a play for the MLS Cup, they’ll need their young phenom on the pitch.