Alphonso Davies and Canadian soccer are on the rise
Teenage star about to make history in Champions League final
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Here's what you need to know right now from the world of sports:
It's an exciting time for Canadian soccer
Three things are happening right now that deserve your attention:
1. Alphonso Davies is in the Champions League final
The budding superstar helped Germany's Bayern Munich reach the soccer equivalent of the Super Bowl by beating French club Lyon 3-0 in yesterday's semifinal. That sets up an interesting final against French power Paris Saint-Germain. Bayern is the deeper team and is favoured to win. But PSG has a formidable Big Three in Brazilian star Neymar, skillful Argentine Angel Di Maria and French speedster Kylian Mbappé. The match kicks off Sunday at 3 p.m. ET in Portugal.
When it does, the 19-year-old Davies will become only the second Canadian to play in soccer's most prestigious club match — and, in a way, the first. Calgary-born-and-raised Owen Hargreaves won the Champions League title with Bayern in 2001 and Manchester United in '08. But he never played for Canada internationally. Both of Hargreaves' parents were from the U.K., and he opted to play for England. Davis was, famously, born in a refugee camp in Ghana to Liberian parents before moving to Canada when he was five. He played for various Canadian youth national teams before getting his Canadian citizenship and almost immediately making his senior national-team debut at the age of 16. So Davies will be the first Canadian national-team member to play in the men's Champions League final.
He's also likely to play a bigger role than Hargreaves ever did. This is remarkable for a teenager, but Davies is already one of the most important players on one of Europe's top teams, and one of the best young soccer players in the entire world. He'll start at left-back on Sunday, where his job will be to attack PSG from the flank.
Obviously, Bayern saw something in Davies when it paid a guaranteed $13.5 million US (and perhaps north of $22 million with various performance-related add-ons) to buy him from the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2018. At the time, that was a record transfer price for a Major League Soccer player. But even they must be surprised at how quickly Davies has turned into a star. In helping Bayern win its eighth consecutive Bundesliga title this season, he was named the German league's rookie of the year.
Davies regularly gets soccer Twitter buzzing with his dazzling displays of talent. Speed is his primary weapon — he was clocked running a Bundesliga-record 36.51 km/h during Bayern's title-clinching win in June. But his skill set is stunningly well-rounded for someone his age. Along with his quickness, Davies put his ball skills, smarts, vision and guts all on full display with his jaw-dropping assist during Bayern's 8-2 destruction of Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-finals last week. It's one of the best soccer highlights of the year, and you really should watch it right now.
2. Jonathan David is already showing he's worth the money
Remember how we said Alphonso Davies' services commanded an MLS-record transfer fee of up to $22 million US when the Vancouver Whitecaps sold him to Bayern Munich two years ago? Well, the Canadian record now belongs to David. Two weeks ago, French club Lille forked over a reported $35 million US to acquire the 20-year-old striker from Belgium's KAA Gent.
David is a very talented scorer who tied for the lead in Belgium's top league last season with 18 goals in 27 matches. He has 11 goals in 12 appearances for the Canadian national team. And he's off to a great start with his new club — he scored in his exhibition debut yesterday for Lille. Read more about David and his new professional home here.
3. Three Canadians are involved in the Women's Champions League quarter-finals
Those matches will be played Friday and Saturday in Spain. Paris Saint-Germain, which is facing Arsenal on Saturday, has two members of the Canadian women's national team: defender Ashley Lawrence and forward Jordyn Huitema. Lyon, which plays Bayern Munich on Saturday (three days after their men's teams met), has defender Kadeisha Buchanan.
The semifinals go Tuesday and Wednesday, and the final is next Sunday.
Also, the Canadian men's national team found out its path for qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.
This has not seemed like an attainable goal for a very long time. While the Canadian women's team is a fixture in its World Cup and has won back-to-back Olympic bronze medals, the men's squad is a minnow that hasn't reached the World Cup since 1986 -- when it lost all three of its matches in Mexico and didn't even score a goal.
But Canadian soccer fans can at least start dreaming about another men's World Cup appearance in the coming years. Canada is co-hosting the 2026 tournament with the United States and Mexico. Though it hasn't been decided whether all three host countries will get an automatic berth, the chances seem pretty good with the field expanding from 32 to 48 teams that year.
For those feeling extra-optimistic, a spot in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar suddenly seems less far-fetched now that Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David are leading the charge. Canada found out its path yesterday when the regional qualifiers were drawn.
Here's how it works: For this round, the 30 teams ranked sixth through 35th in North and Central America and the Caribbean (the region known as Concacaf) are split into six groups of five. Each team plays the others in its group once, and the winner of each group advances. In the second round, those six group winners are paired off for a home-and-home set. The three winners advance to the third and final round, where they'll meet the top five Concacaf teams: Mexico, the U.S., Costa Rica, Jamaica and Honduras. All eight teams will play 14 matches — a home-and-home set against each of the other seven countries. The teams with the three best records qualify for the World Cup, and the fourth-place team earns another shot to qualify via an intercontinental playoff.
Canada's four opponents in the opening round are all lightweights: Suriname (No. 141 in the world), Bermuda (168), the Cayman Islands (193) and Aruba (200). Canada is ranked 73rd and favoured to advance. If so, its second-round opponent is the winner of Group E. The top team there is 86th-ranked Haiti.
A well-known sports broadcaster got suspended for a "horrific, homophobic remark." The Cincinnati Reds used those words in announcing they've taken play-by-play man Thom Brennaman off their games. Apparently not realizing his mic was live, Brennaman was heard on air saying, in a troublingly casual tone, "one of the f-- capitals of the world." It's unclear what he was referring to, but that doesn't matter. Brennaman, who's best known for calling nationally televised college and pro football games for the Fox network, later apologized on air. Describing himself as "a man of faith," he begged for forgiveness but also acknowledged that "I don't know if I'll be putting on this headset again." Awkwardly, Brennaman interrupted his apology to call a home run by a Reds player (and give the score), in that way only a baseball play-by-play man could think to do. It's hard not to laugh at a move as ham-handed and tone-deaf as that, and to make fun of Brennaman. But it's also important to understand the hurt that can be caused by the word he used. If you don't, I encourage you to read this Twitter thread by CBC Sports' Devin Heroux.
A Canadian is near the top of the Women's British Open leaderboard — just not the one you'd expect. While world No. 7 Brooke Henderson struggled to a 6-over-par opening round today that left her tied for 88th place, 103rd-ranked Alena Sharp is tied for fourth after shooting even par at a tough-playing Royal Troon. The 39-year-old from Hamilton, Ont., has never finished better than 17th in a major. She's four shots back of the leader, American Amy Olson, who's three strokes up on the field.
The Vancouver Canucks and Montreal Canadiens got big wins last night. Montreal avoided elimination with a 5-3 victory over Philadelphia in Game 5 of their series. Vancouver bounced back from two straight losses to beat St. Louis 4-3 and go up 3-2 in their matchup. Game 6 in both series will be on Friday. Only two NHL games are on tap today, and both could result in eliminations. The Islanders can bounce Washington in Game 5 (8 p.m. ET) and Dallas can end Calgary's season in Game 6 (10:30 p.m. ET). The Isles beating the Caps would be another upset in an NHL post-season that's already given us a bunch of them. Watch Rob Pizzo's video on the nine biggest surprises we've seen so far here.
Kawhi Leonard has his hands full. The reigning NBA Finals MVP had another strong game last night for the Clippers, but was once again overshadowed by second-year Dallas star Luka Doncic as the Mavericks evened their series 1-1 with a 127-114 rout. Kawhi had a game-high 35 points (hard-earned, as he went 13-for-14 from the foul line) but Doncic looked like the best player on the floor for much of the night. Despite playing only nine minutes in the second half because of foul trouble, he led the Mavs with 28 points and seven assists and added eight rebounds. This after his 42-point performance in Game 1, which was the highest-scoring playoff debut in NBA history. The No. 2-seeded Clippers were supposed to overwhelm Dallas with their superior depth. But the Mavs' young, Euro 1-2 punch of Doncic and skilled big man Kristaps Porzingis is going to make them a very tough out.
Alpine skiing's top North American events are moving to Europe this season. That includes the men's and women's World Cup downhill and super-G races normally held at Alberta's Lake Louise early in the season (late November/early December). Events in Colorado and Vermont around that time are also being shifted to Europe because of various pandemic-related concerns. Read more about the move here.
Did you know the world's oldest ballpark is in Canada? London, Ont.'s Labatt Memorial Park has been around since 1877, and the Guiness Book of World Records recognizes the charming 5,200-seat stadium as the world's longest continuously operating baseball grounds. The streak looked like it might end at 143 years with the pandemic causing the cancellation of baseball seasons throughout Ontario, but a special exhibition game was organized to keep it intact. On Friday night, Labatt Park's main team, the London Majors, will play the Guelph Royals in a matchup of Intercounty Baseball League foes. Fans won't be allowed in, but the game will be shown on local cable TV and on the Majors' YouTube channel. Read more about the effort to preserve the streak here.
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