Soccer·Analysis

Alphonso Davies emerging as the Christine Sinclair of Canadian men's soccer team

Coach John Herdman paid young star Alphonso Davies the ultimate compliment after Canada's 4-1 win over Panama on Wednesday, comparing him to Christine Sinclair, the greatest soccer player in Canadian history.

Comparison comes from John Herdman, the man who has coached them both

Alphonso Davies, centre, leads Canada's team in a victory celebration following a 4-1 win over Panama on Wednesday in Toronto. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

How good was Alphonso Davies on Wednesday night in Canada's 4-1 home win over Panama in a crucial World Cup qualifier?

So good that Canadian rapper Drake immediately reached out to Davies after the game.

"He just got a text from Drake. Drake wants to meet with the [team]. Hopefully tonight he gets a chance to take that off his bucket list. That's the type of performance [Davies] had," coach John Herdman told reporters after the match. 

Davies earns comparisons to Sinclair

Everyone wants a piece of Davies these days, and for good reason. One of this country's greatest athletes, the 20-year-old from Edmonton, who also plays for Bayern Munich in Germany's league, led his team to a memorable victory. His man-of-the-match effort saw him score one goal and set up another, helping to keep alive Canada's dreams of World Cup qualification. 

It also earned him accolades from his teammates and Herdman, who said Davies' skills and leadership reminded him of the greatest Canadian soccer player of all time — and he should know, he coached her, too. 

"Phonzie's a big influencer in this group. He's a humble guy, but when he speaks it reminds us of [Christine] Sinclair," Herdman said, comparing Davies to the three-time Olympic medallist known for her quiet but confident leadership of the women's national team. 

"When he speaks, people listen."

The pressure was squarely on the Reds after the draw against lowly Jamaica on the weekend, while Panama beat the U.S. Those results allowed Panama to leapfrog Canada into third place — the top three teams among the eight-nation field at the end of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) campaign next March qualify for the 2022 World Cup. 

Canada desperately needed to pick up the win on Wednesday to climb ahead of Panama and build momentum going into next month when it plays a tricky pair of home games against Mexico and Costa Rica.

The occasion called for the Canadians to step up in a big way. They didn't disappoint.

The speed and skill of Davies (19) were too much for the Panamanians to contain. (Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

One-man wrecking crew

A raucous crowd of 26,622 fans at BMO Field were treated to a memorable night, with Davies at the centre of it all. It was a sparkling display from the Bayern Munich star, who was a one-man wrecking crew against the Central Americans. With Canada down 1-0 early, Davies danced his way through five Panamanian players with the ball glued to his feet in a sequence that led to the team's first scoring chance.

But the best was yet to come from Davies, whose brilliant individual effort saw Canada take a 2-1 lead in the second half and then cruise to victory.

Jonathan David played a pass forward that was headed out of bounds, but Davies went on a lung-busting run 20 yards away, starting from inside his half, to win the ball as Panama's Harold Cummings tried to shepherd it out.

After using his trailing foot to pick the pocket of the defender, Davies glided into the penalty area, sidestepped defender Fidel Escobar and, using teammate Tajon Buchanan as a decoy, beat goalkeeper Luis Mejia with a low shot that left the Panamanian standing as though he was stuck in cement.

It was an unreal play only a few in the world could pull off. 

WATCH | A closer look at Alphonso Davies' incredible goal vs. Panama:

Breaking Down Alphonso Davies' spectacular goal against Panama

2 months ago
1:19
Watch our breakdown of forward Alphonso Davies' incredible individual effort as Canada defeats Panama 4-1 in their CONCACAF World Cup qualifying match. 1:19

"I started picking up pace and after that, I just committed to it," Davies said. "He's a bigger body than me, so I knew he was going to come with his body, so I tried to slow down to avoid contact and try to keep the ball in. When I did that, it was a [two against one] and I tried to look for [Buchanan,] but I beat [Escobar] and in my mind I was, 'Just shoot the ball.'

"So, I shot the ball across the 'keeper and I'm happy that it went in."

Canadian goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau was left in awe by Davies' pure hustle that led to the jaw-dropping goal.

"It was pretty cool. A great run. He believes. He believes that he could get there," Crepeau said. "I've witnessed a lot of good goals, but that was a great moment for the country, to make the stadium explode."

Perhaps just as important as Davies' highlight reel material was the leadership he displayed. The youngster has greatly matured since making his national team debut as a teenager in 2017, showing a wisdom well beyond his years. 

Tajon Buchanan, centre, another of Canada's young stars, scores against Panama on Wednesday. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Lit a fire under teammates

Davies wasn't wearing the captain's armband on Wednesday, but that didn't prevent him from lighting a fire under his teammates when needed.

Moments after Panama opened the scoring, David found himself with a good look on goal after a great feed from Davies, but passed the ball instead.

Davies had a quick conversation with his teammate in the aftermath of that gilt-edged scoring chance. The next time David was set up inside the box by Davies, he didn't hesitate and struck a shot that forced a fantastic save from Mejia.

WATCH | World Cup qualification in sight for Canadian soccer team:

Alphonso Davies helps Canada close in on World Cup qualification

2 months ago
2:02
Alphonso Davies received a hero’s celebration after leading Canada’s men’s soccer team to a victory that pushed them one step closer to qualifying for the World Cup for the first time since 1986. Sports analysts say this is the most exhilarating men’s soccer team Canada has ever had. 2:02

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Molinaro is one of the leading soccer journalists in Canada, having covered the game for over 20 years for a number of media outlets, including CBC Sports, Sportsnet and Sun Media. During his time at CBC Sports, John travelled to South Africa to cover the 2010 FIFA World Cup for CBCSports.ca. He is currently the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of the Canadian game.

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