It was supposed to be the Alphonso Davies show. It wasn’t quite, but it was still a memorable Friday night in Edmonton for Canada’s soccer star and a men’s team that looks increasingly likely to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar.
The match ended with a critical 1-0 victory for Canada over Costa Rica, but the reality on the field was closer to 3-0 with Canada owning the possession and most of the scoring chances.
Canada’s sporting media hasn’t quite caught up, but the fans certainly have from coast to coast. Months after Canada’s women won Olympic gold, the men are closing in on that World Cup berth and they’re doing it in style.
On a chilly pitch in the town where he grew up, Davies showed only flashes of the brilliance that has marked him as the best player in CONCACAF and the best Canada has ever produced. Perhaps John Herdman had him playing in the wrong place as part of a two-man midfield, perhaps Davies was trying too hard in the town where he grew up, perhaps the chilly conditions weren’t suited to the fluid game Canada wanted to play.
Whatever, the supposed “struggles” Davies endured in the game were relative. The worst of it was the punishment he was taking, especially 15 minutes in when he was sandwiched at midfield like a wide receiver being hit by two NFL linebackers. Davies was left in a heap, but the referee kept his cards in his pocket, as he did later when eventual goal-scorer Jonathan David was knocked down from behind in the box.
This time, there was no repetition of the brilliant goal Davies scored against Panama Oct. 13, surely the greatest goal any Canadian has ever scored and the play of the year for Canada in the all-sports category.
Davies is so superb, however, that he doesn’t need to score to dazzle. Back in Germany days after that goal, he set up Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski with a play almost as brilliant, then mimicked Lewandowski’s goal stance with a mischievous grin.
If you haven’t caught Davies and Canada’s men’s team yet, they’re back in action Tuesday night against an even tougher opponent in Mexico. With three CONCACAF teams automatically qualifying for the World Cup in Qatar, Canada is in third with 13 points, with Mexico and the U.S. tied at 14.
The weather in Edmonton is expected to be even colder than it was Friday — but Canada has the talent and the team to pull it off.