After Bayern Munich beginnings, Alphonso Davies eyes Gold Cup with Canada

LOS ANGELES – Alphonso Davies has returned from his first half-season in Europe a smarter, more sophisticated player, one who – as the face of soccer in his nation at just 18 – looks to lead Canada to great heights at the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup.

The tournament begins Saturday (7:30 pm ET | FS2, Univision, TSN3) when Canada faces Martinique, and he's hoping the Canucks can pull off a surprise, just like when they won the tournament in 2000 a few months before Davies was born. Then it's back to Bundesliga powerhouse Bayern Munich, which last year bought him from the Vancouver Whitecaps for $22 million.

Davies, who was born to Liberian parents in a Ghanaian refugee camp and immigrated to Canada, followed his Whitecaps’ rise with a promising first campaign at one of the world's most storied clubs.

“It's been a good experience. My time there has been amazing,” Davies told MLSsoccer.com as Canada wrapped up a training session this week at UCLA. “You know, learning from the best players in the world, some of the best players in the world, so it was outstanding.”

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Alphonso Davies, left, celebrates a goal with his Bayern Munich teammates | Reuters/Andreas Gebert

Davies, primarily a wide attacker, made six appearances with the first team and three more with the second team. The highlight was his goal in Bayern's 6-0 victory over Mainz in mid-March.

“It's a dream come true,” Davies said. “Playing in Allianz Arena, scoring in front of your home fans, 75,000 fans screaming your name when you score. It's something special.”

He's learned from top players, particularly Spanish midfielder Thiago, Dutch winger Arjen Robben and French winger Franck Ribery, who “teach me many, many things. Those legends, learning from them really opens your eyes to the game.”

“Playing with those players, I think my mentality towards the game has grown a lot bigger,” Davies said. “Winning is more important now to me, just being able to help my team in any way. Overall, those guys, they've taught me so much through my short time I was there, from January to the end of the season, and I can't wait to go back.”

Canada coach John Herdman sees a difference but notes Davies, the most celebrated of a young generation that’s starting to transform the national team, hasn't changed too much.

“You look at him, he's more confident, he's definitely grown,” Herdman said. “I think he knows his place in the game now. And when you know your place, that has expectation. But I think he's the player now. He can manage it. He just enjoys life, he enjoys the game, he's a free spirit. 

“So coming back, I haven't seen a massive difference. I mean, tactically he operates inside more, and he's smarter with his movement inside. That was that was something I could see. But I haven't seen a massive shift.”

Davies' foundation, Herdman said, was set before heading to Bavaria.

“I think it's talent,” he said. “Talent starts with a mindset, and that mindset [has] been developed through his evolution as a human being. From the camps and in Africa to transitioning into a new country, a new world, a new life. That's always gonna be there.”

Robben and Ribery are leaving Bayern, which could portend an expanded role for Davies.

“To be honest, I don't know [what will happen],” Davies said. “That's up to [manager Niko Kovac]. Whenever he wants me, or wherever he wants to play me, I'm willing to give my all in any position.”

It’s all part of learning to become a professional, ranging from improving his German to harnessing the proper day-to-day mentality. 

Alphonso Davies after the Bundesliga title is secured | Reuters/Andreas Gebert

“You know, if you go in there thinking it's a big club, that I can't compete with these guys, then that's your mindset throughout the whole time you're there,” Davies said. “My mindset was, they signed me, they want me to play on this team, so it's time for me to give my all and try my best.”

Now he looks to do the same with Canada, which also faces Mexico and Cuba in Group A action. Should they advance, the knockout phase won't be easy: Costa Rica could be waiting in the quarterfinals, and a potential rematch with Mexico in the semifinals could follow.

“The highest accomplishments in the Gold Cup is to win it, and that's our goal,” Davies said. “Obviously, it's not gonna be easy, gonna come against tough opponents. We're not gonna have the ball for quite a while. Gonna be defending. But I think together as a group, we can we can really push and go far in this tournament."

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