Alphonso Davies made his first MLS appearance when he was 15. He remains the youngest MLS player to start a game behind Fredy Adu.
There were high hopes for him then, but his meteoric rise in the years since his 2016 debut would have been hard to believe. He is now considered one of the best fullbacks in the world, starring for Bayern Munich at just 19.
His growth in MLS was not linear; it was exponential. He made eight appearances, six off the bench, in 2016 as a young and raw winger. Then he upped it to 26 (with nine starts) in 2017 as a super-sub and speed demon. By 2018, he was the Vancouver Whitecaps’ best player, scoring eight goals and 11 assists and making the All-Star team as a commissioner’s pick. Vancouver agreed to a record transfer with Bayern that July.
Alphonso Davies rise as Bayern Munich’s left-back
It was frustrating when the Whitecaps would occasionally play Davies at left-back, but the decision proved prescient — he moved full-time to the position with Bayern. He is a perfect fit for a Bayern team that tends to control the game with possession. Hans-Dieter Flick gives Davies full license to overlap, and with Bayern on the front foot so often, teams have trouble taking advantage of the resulting space.
It helps that Davies is incredible at tracking back on defense:
His recovery speed is unmatchable. While he isn’t quite a world-class defensive stopper, he has reached a point where he knows how to leverage his speed to stop the ball. He shields it out of bounds and disrupts passing lanes.
The most notable parallel between his Bayern stardom and his days as an MLS up-and-comer is his straight-ahead dribbling. Some players create chances through intricate combination play or through-balls; Davies is a pure on-ball playmaker, blazing a trail and then reaping the fruits of it. Like an NBA player driving and kicking, he sprints forward into space and attempts to get to the endline, where he finds a pass that capitalizes on a disjointed opposition.
With Bayern, he starts his runs from a deeper position and plays off the winger ahead of him. He’s a slingshot to throw at the other team, often becoming Bayern’s most effective chance-creator. The interchanging of Davies and the left winger (Serge Gnabry, Kingsley Coman, or someone else) causes confusion for opponents who don’t know how to effectively rotate against them.
When Davies finds open space, he is an on-goal threat. His favorite move is kicking the ball ahead and chasing it down, like a kid who is faster than all of his friends. It’s remarkably simple and effective. His speed makes things easy for him, and he was able to cook professionals even as a high-schooler. He has developed his dribbling nuance over time; back in 2018, I covered the little shoulder feints he would use to get around defenders.
He has become one of the best in the world by figuring out what to do after roasting everyone. His awareness amid the chaos he creates is one of his biggest strengths.
Davies knows the passes that become available when he reaches the endline. Robert Lewandowski is always poaching. Someone might come up behind as a trailer. Sometimes there is someone lurking at the back-post. Davies understands the reads more than ever, and that’s where the assists are coming from — he’s learned how to take full advantage of his speed and dribbling abilities.
Bayern appreciate his talents. He’s one of the first names on the team sheet now, and it doesn’t look like that will change any time soon.