National Writer: Charles Boehm

Alphonso Davies’ story comes full circle as Bayern Munich visit Audi Field

WASHINGTON – Alphonso Davies bore all the trappings of a bona fide international star as he arrived at Audi Field with Bayern Munich this week.

The strapping Canadian was front and center as the German giants breezed into the capital city as part of their preseason tour of the United States, handling media duties before Wednesday night’s friendly with D.C. United, where he started at left back in a 6-2 win, and featuring prominently in the club’s social media.

“I’m happy to be back here, happy to play in front of the North American fans again,” Phonzy said on Tuesday. “The journey has been really really incredible, really inspiring … looking back on the couple of years that I’ve left MLS, just coming back here brings back all these memories.”

It was four years and a week since his last visit to United’s home stadium, which he helped inaugurate as a member of Vancouver Whitecaps FC, the opponent on its opening day on July 14, 2018.

Two weeks before his record-breaking, eight-figure transfer to Bayern, he treated fans to a stunning individual effort in a 3-1 D.C. win, an incredible late consolation goal showcasing the vast potential that had some of Europe’s biggest clubs hunting for the teenage phenom’s signature.

Four years on, Davies has justified the hype, proving that he could extend his remarkable trajectory of growth beyond MLS, even at one of the world’s true superclubs. Physically dominant, tactically astute and thriving under the tutelage of Bayern’s cerebral manager Julian Nagelsmann, he is a fearsome pro – and the walking embodiment of MLS’s vision for player development.

“I think he’s getting better and better,” said Nagelsmann after Wednesday’s match. “Sometimes last season we had kind of problems to find the best position [for him], especially when we play with three in a row, that wide position. So in training yesterday, we trained attacking, and involved in a 3-5-2, he did brilliant.

“Today we played with four in a row and he showed moments in offensive and also on defense. The most important topic for him is to play passes into the middle and follow the ball; today he did almost four or five times when he did exactly this movement, played passes into the red zone and followed the ball, because then with his speed, it’s not that easy to defend.

“I'm happy with his performance today and also happy with his performance in the preseason so far. He's one of the best wing defenders in Europe and we’re happy to have him on our squad.”

Ted Ku-DiPietro was in the crowd that night in 2018. The D.C. homegrown midfielder was 16 at the time, an academy prospect still a year away from his professional debut, marveling as a kid not much older than him lit up a match that also included now-head coach Wayne Rooney.

“That goal was insane, honestly. I think [Davies] did two players and then just put it bottom corner,” recalled Ku-DiPietro outside United’s locker room on Wednesday night. “It was amazing.”

Ku-DiPietro, who signed an MLS contract in January after several years of promising performances for their USL Championship affiliate Loudoun United, was the home team’s star this week. He scored one of D.C.’s goals and created the other to earn the Black-and-Red a measure of pride against the overwhelming might of their Bavarian guests.

It was a display that surely did not escape the notice of Rooney, who has made clear he aims to promote young players at United just as he did at his previous club, then-English Championship outfit Derby County.

Just as he delighted in Davies’ moment of magic four years ago, Wednesday gave Ku-DiPietro a chance to admire the 21-year-old’s dramatic evolution in the ensuing years, cognizant that Davies walked a path in Vancouver – from academy to second team to first team and beyond – similar to what has been provided for him with D.C. and Loudoun.

“He even came from the USL like I did. So like just for him to go up through that,” said Ku-DiPietro, “and just to see him playing for Bayern Munich is something I look up to, and maybe I can do that someday. Who knows?”

A lot can happen in four years. Davies’ story offers living proof to academy kids across the league who aspire to the rarified level he’s reached.

“What he looked like when he was in Vancouver and what he looks like now, I mean, he's a beast. He's one of the best left backs in the world,” said Chad Ashton, United’s interim head coach and an assistant under ex-manager Ben Olsen in 2018. “We will certainly be reminding [young players] and saying, ‘Hey, this is what you want to be. This is what you want to strive for.’

“It's incredible to see the level he's at compared to when he was in the league, but it's fantastic.”

Having led his country back to this fall’s World Cup for the first time since 1986, his club dominant in the Bundesliga and targeting UEFA Champions League honors in 2022-23, there’s plenty more for Davies to dream about, too.

“For me, it’s incredible. Bayern Munich is one of the biggest clubs in the world and being able to play for them, play with the players that I play with, is truly an honor. I’ve learned so much from these guys just from my first day here, and until now, I’m still learning,” said Davies on Tuesday. “I’m happy to be here and I’m satisfied here.”