Alphonso Davies-backed soccer club inspires Edmonton kids to achieve their goals

Six players from BTB Soccer Academy players joined professional teams this year —one of the many achievements of the grassroots club represented by Alphonso Davies that aims to level the playing field and inspire kids be the best they can be.

BTB Soccer Academy players signed six professional contracts this year

Alphonso Davies celebrates after scoring early in Canada's 4-1 loss to Croatia, making history as the first Canadian man to score in a World Cup. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images) (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

An Edmonton soccer academy represented by Alphonso Davies is inspiring players to reach their goals on and off the field.

BTB (Born to Be) Soccer Academy has been around for just nine years. But this year alone, 14 of its players were awarded university scholarships while six others signed with the Whitecaps MLS Academy. Another half dozen players joined professional teams.

In July, Dieu-Merci Michel, an 18-year-old forward nicknamed Deuce, signed a two year contract with Vitoria Guimaraes' U-19 team in Portugal's top league.

"The biggest thing BTB did for me was help me find my why, the reason why I played football, the reason why I want to go far," Michel said in an interview Wednesday.

"That's why I go hard every single day."

Dieu-Merci Michel, one of the top scorers in his league, won national championships playing for BTB (Kondeh Mansaray)

Davies is an ambassador to the academy and serves as an inspiration to its players, including many with similar life experiences. From humble beginnings, Davies' star rose quickly, culminating in a historic goal 62 seconds into the World Cup match against Croatia.

Born in a Ghanaian refugee camp, Davies' family found a new home in Edmonton.

In 2018, a 17-year-old Davies was signed by Bayern Munich from the Vancouver Whitecaps in a $22-million transfer deal. "Phonzie" is now considered one of the best left-backs in the world. 

But the 22-year-old has never forgotten his roots.

A social media post when he joined BTB notes Davies shares their values including "giving back to the community that raised him and helped him achieve his dreams."

It's not uncommon for Davies to drop by his old junior high or a BTB training. Earlier this year, he extended an appearance signing autographs for seven hours at Burger Daddy in north Edmonton to meet every last fan waiting in line.   

Dieu-Merci Michel and his BTB coaches: Pius Ishiekwene, far left, Kondeh Mansaray, centre-left, and Talal Al-Awaid, far right. (Submitted by Kondeh Mansaray)

The academy makes sure inspired players with backgrounds similar to Davies have the opportunity to reach their goal of playing at the highest level possible, even finding rides or funds for kids in need, said founder Kondeh Mansaray.

BTB was born one summer when Mansaray was home from college, visiting his aunt in Clareview.

Mansaray got the neighbourhood kids playing soccer to keep them active.

Soon he was running training programs with his wife, Nyange Mansaray and program lead, Pius Ishiekwene.

In 2020, BTB became an academy where roughly 450 members train and play exclusively. Players come from various backgrounds reflecting Edmonton's diverse make-up. Goal setting inspires them to work hard.

"For us, soccer is 24/7," Mansaray said.

"We're always thinking about ways to make sure we're helping the players, whether that's the next stage in their soccer — how we can help them get better technically or tactically —  and also just being there for them whenever they need us."

At the last tryout BTB had to turn away as many as 100 people due to lack of space, Mansaray said.

Learning perseverance

U-11 head coach Ivan Ferreira said they teach kids to figure out solutions on the field, rather than being told what to do.

"We encourage them to try new things and make mistakes, especially at this young age, it's really important for them to continue trying," Ferreira said. "They need to learn, fail and eventually that's how they're going to get better."

That can-do attitude is already instilled in 10-year-old Marcus Ferreira.

"Sometimes you might not get it, but you'll get it eventually," said Ferreira. "Keep playing hard and you'll get it."

BTB's Marcus Ferreira's motto is "keep playing hard and you'll get it." (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Montreal-born Michel found his way to the BTB family after his parents moved from Angola to Canada in 2001. They have been working hard ever since to support Michel and his eight siblings, he said.

Michel recalls two years of homelessness living in Calgary, sleeping in churches and gyms where his dad first taught him how to play soccer.

At 11, Michel's family moved to Edmonton where he met Mansaray at church. That same Sunday, Michel attended his first BTB training.

"I went there with my church clothes and that's how I started playing soccer," said Michel.

It's also where he discovered the why that drives him after a long talk with Mansaray: his parents.

"I want to see them enjoy life," Michel said. "They're still working every day to help their family. I want to take care of them because of everything they did for me."

Perseverance paid off for Michel who tried out for 14 teams this year before landing a coveted spot with Vitoria. 

Now Deuce has his sights set on a new goal – joining Phonzie to represent Canada on home turf in 2026. 

"I know I'll be there and we'll make Canada proud."

A photo of Dieu-Merci Michel with Alphonso Davies from several years ago. Deuce hopes to reunite with Phonzie on the field, representing Canada on home turf at the 2026 World Cup. (Submitted by Kondeh Mansaray)