Canada's Alphonso Davies a Gold Cup player to watch after stellar debut
Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Alphonso Davies smiles as he leaves the field following practice in Vancouver on Monday, July 23, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Donna Spencer, The Associated Press
Published Thursday, June 13, 2019 6:42PM EDT
A 16-year-old Alphonso Davies gave the soccer world whiplash at the Gold Cup two years ago.
The Edmonton forward set a high bar for himself becoming the youngest player to score for Canada, the youngest to score in the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the first player born in the 2000s to score at a top-level international tournament.
With a team-leading three goals in the tournament, Davies earned both young player and Golden Boot awards.
Now 18 and a season with Bayern Munich under his belt, eyes will be on Davies when Canada opens the 2019 Gold Cup on Saturday against Martinique at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
"Alphonso is two years older, but he's still a young man," Canadian team coach John Herdman said Thursday on a conference all. "Coming into this Gold Cup, he has higher expectations of himself, he has higher expectations of the team.
"Now, he's at that stage in his career where he has to perform under that scrutiny. People are going to ask questions around his performance.
"Living in that Bayern bubble where every training session is, as he described, a win-at-all-costs environment, you would hope he's built that mindset and a little bit of resilience for what will come, which is those questions now."
The biennial Gold Cup is a tournament of national teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Canada, a quarterfinalist in 2017 and Gold Cup champion in 2000, faces Martinique, Mexico and Cuba in the group stage.
The top two countries from each of the four groups qualify for quarterfinals to be played in Houston and Philadelphia.
The semifinals are July 2 in Glendale, Ariz., and July 3 in Nashville followed by the championship game in Chicago on July 7, which is the same day as the final of the women's World Cup.
The United States is the defending Gold Cup champion.
After facing Martinique, Canada takes on tournament top-seed Mexico on Wednesday in Denver and concludes the group stage June 23 against Cuba in Charlotte, N.C.
"This is a journey towards World Cup qualification," Herdman said. "That's the most important thing on my mind as a coach.
"The Gold Cup gives us a chance to play tougher opposition in moments where you're going to be tested. Any mistake puts you out of the tournament.
"The thing I'm most looking forward to in this tournament is to see our chemistry start to come together with players who have nearly played five or six games together.
"There's a process game by game to keep growing through the tournament to get us ready for some pretty big tests as we push on towards the quarter-final, semifinal and final stage."
Rangers midfielder Scott Arfield scored both goals for Canada in a 2-0 pre-tournament win Monday against Trinidad and Tobago. Arfield is Scottish-born, but his father is from Toronto.
"He's been an absolute gift to Canada," Herdman said. "This is a guy that's played at the highest levels of football in Europe."
Atiba Hutchinson, a 36-year-old midfielder from Brampton, Ont., who helped Canada reach the semifinals in 2007, will play in his sixth Gold Cup equalling the national-team record held by Julian de Guzman.
Canada qualified for both the Gold Cup and the CONCACAF Nations League Group A by finishing second in the qualification stage with a 4-0 record, 18 goals scored and just one allowed.
Canada Soccer announced Thursday the home dates for Canada's Nations League matches Sept. 7 against Cuba and Oct. 15 against the U.S. both at Toronto's BMO Field.
"We had a bit of a road to get to this Group A and we've been rewarded with some really top, top games, particularly a home match against the U.S.A.," Herdman observed.
"It's been a long time since we've had the U.S.A. at home. Just a great test and more importantly a big game that's going to influence ranking points for World Cup qualification."