ATLANTA – One of MLS’s first Canadian success stories is hoping that the latest one signals a new era in the country’s soccer history.
Alphonso Davies was just a toddler when Dwayne De Rosario burst onto the scene, scoring the game-winning goal for the San Jose Earthquakes in the 2001 MLS Cup – the first of his four league championships – and embarking on a long and prosperous career with the Canadian national team and several MLS clubs. Suffice to say that “DeRo” sees Davies’ record-breaking transfer to Bayern Munich as a landmark moment.
“Fantastic – it was a great move for young Canadians,” De Rosario told MLSsoccer.com of the Davies deal as he stopped by MLS Digital HQ on Tuesday during the lead-up to the 2018 All-Star Game presented by Target. “His story is very compelling – it’s an amazing story of how he grew up and his journey to be where he is today, to see a young kid go through so much trial and come out of it with such a positive mentality, play the sport that he loves playing. We’re very fortunate to have him in Canada and to embrace his family, to give him the opportunity to play the game he loves.”
Davies’ storybook rise from Liberian refugee kid in Edmonton to world-class professional prospect has by now become familiar to many, and in some ways it echoes the path taken by De Rosario, the Scarborough-born child of Guyanese immigrants. He sees the growth of Canada’s professional soccer infrastructure as a key influence in Davies’ formation and believes there are plenty more kids poised to seize similar opportunities in the years to come.
“Now there’s a pathway that the kids 16, 17, 18 – even as young as 13 – can be a part of the academy structure to get that professional environment and to be in a platform to be recognized. I think it speaks volumes about how far the league has come to have a team like Bayern come and invest in a Canadian kid,” said DeRo, who noted approvingly that Davies flashed newfound levels of skill and swagger in his all-conquering performance for the Vancouver Whitecaps in Saturday’s 4-2 win over Minnesota United, his first match since signing with Bayern.
“He’s earned it. You see him starting to feel himself now, the confidence is flowing with the last two goals, so I’m happy for him, I’m very happy for him. I know he’ll do well. All over Canada, he’s the main focus, he’s the talk of the town, and he deserves it.”
But De Rosario, who serves as a community ambassador for his hometown side Toronto FC and their parent company MLSE, still sees ample hurdles preventing his homeland from making full use of their talent pool.
So after calling time on his playing career three years ago, the crafty, mercurial attacker started a grassroots initiative called the DeRo Foundation to help new generations of Canadian kids rise through the ranks.
“I think right now in the soccer landscape there’s a real challenge because of the academies coming in now, and the prices kids have to pay to be involved,” he explained. “Some of the stipulations we put in place, especially in Ontario soccer, make it a little challenging for kids in these environments to excel – or even to afford some of these costs. So I set up a foundation purposely for after-school programs in inner-city communities to access some of these kids that maybe won’t be seen or don’t have the access to go to a TFC training ground or go to an academy where they can be seen.
“We help support these kids and we fund them, and one is actually with TFC, so we’re hoping he has an Alphonso Davies story," he added. "That’s the goal and I’m very proud to say that structure’s in place and we hope to continue to grow the efforts to help these kids.”
DeRo is generally bullish on the future for Canada’s younger generations as well as the national team. Yet he also believes it’s time to expect more from Canada Soccer and the rest of the country’s soccer leadership.
“It’s definitely headed in the right direction, especially with the Alphonso Davies move, and of course getting the World Cup bid for 2026,” he said. “I think it pushes more of the envelope of accountability for our soccer association to do better, to really find and get the right people in place to heighten the professionalism and also the recognition of the players – because even when I was playing there, there wasn’t a big connection with the fans. There was a disconnect, there were none of our players on billboards. So hopefully we improve on that, bridge the gap a lot more with the fans and the association and with the players and continue to build that working relationship, build that brand.
“Because one thing we have to remember, it’s one thing being with a big club – it’s a next thing playing. So if he [Davies] is over there and we’re trying to prepare for a World Cup and he’s not playing, that could be problematic. We need guys playing at the highest level consistently to help us push through.”