In a series for OptaPro, TruMedia Networks’ Paul Carr uses the award-winning ProVision to analyse stand-out players and teams from leagues and competitions across the globe. This fifth article focuses on one of the most exciting players to break out of MLS in recent years, Vancouver Whitecaps’ teenage winger Alphonso Davies.
Alphonso Davies aces the eye test. His pace and skill are evident after a few minutes of observation. Bayern Munich rated him highly enough to pay Vancouver the largest transfer fee ever received by an MLS team ($13.5 million, with escalators up to $22 million).
The 17-year-old Davies also provides a use case for how data can complement scouting and provide context for a player’s abilities and accomplishments.
With six goals and 11 assists this MLS season, Davies’ counting stats might not jump off the page. But the other six with those numbers have been at least on the fringe of the MVP conversation: Luciano Acosta, Miguel Almiron, Maxi Moralez, Sebastian Giovinco, Ignacio Piatti and Darwin Quintero.
Playing primarily on the left side, Davies has been involved in 20 sequences of passes leading to goals, most on Vancouver and tied for 19th in the league this season (read more on sequences here). Filtering out central forwards and midfielders moves Davies up to seventh on the list, behind elite creators Piatti, Diego Valeri, Carlos Vela, Joao Plata, Julian Gressel and Jefferson Savarino.
Ranking 58th in MLS with 33 chances created this season, Davies has a three-to-one chances-to-assist ratio that probably isn’t sustainable, given the league average of about five-to-one over the past three seasons. Passing is only part of what makes Davies exceptional though.
Dangerous with the ball
His most remarkable numbers stem from his speed and willingness to run at defenders, a dangerous combination that leaps off the field and the page. With 196 take-ons this MLS season, Davies is second in the league (behind Piatti), and his 8.5 take-ons per 90 minutes trail only Quintero.
His success rate is equally impressive. Having won 59% of his take-ons, Davies is third-best in the league among the 43 players with at least 60 take-ons this season. The two players ahead of him have combined to attempt only 20 more take-ons than Davies alone (Vako Qazaishvili 118, Edgar Castillo 98).
On top of his creative output, Davies also provides defensive support. He’s in the top 30 in recoveries this season, both total (170) and on a per-90 basis (7.3), and he ranks 33rd in the league with 55 tackles, sporting a success rate of 58 percent that is 15th out of 156 players with 30 tackles this season.
Davies speed obviously fuels Vancouver’s attack, and it also serves as an outlet to relieve pressure. Deployed at times as a wingback, Davies leads the league with 22 take-ons in the defensive third this season, and he’s second behind Piatti with 54 take-ons in the defensive half.
Doing all of this before turning 18 is unprecedented in recent MLS years. Since 2012, Davies’ six goals, 12 assists, 52 chances created and 291 take-ons are far more than the combined totals of all other players aged 17 and under.
Looking into commonly-recruited European leagues (Belgium, England’s Championship, Netherlands and Portugal) for age comparisons from the 2017-18 league season, the only player under 18 with comparable numbers was Ryan Sessegnon.
Fulham’s star played over twice as many league minutes last season as Davies has in 2018, with more goals (16 to 6) and goals per 90 (0.34 to 0.26), though their expected goals per 90 were similar (0.22 for Sessegnon, 0.21 for Davies).
On a per-90 rate, Davies had the edge in assists (0.47 to 0.15), chances created (1.42 to 1.20), and recoveries (7.3 to 4.8), and he took on opponents with much more frequency (8.5 to 2.9) and success (59 percent to 42 percent).
Going farther back, over the past five seasons in those same leagues, the two primary players with comparable numbers before turning 18 are Ajax’s Justin Kluivert in 2016-17, and Anderlecht’s Youri Tielemans in 2014-15.
Kluivert transferred to Roma in June for approximately $21 million. After four World Cup appearances for Belgium, Tielemans is in his second season with Monaco, after joining for a significant fee two summers ago.
Davies may not be in the same stratosphere as those three young stars, though the opportunity to join them may soon arise.
Future at Bayern?
A loan spell is a strong immediate possibility for Davies, and with Franck Ribery currently 35 years old, Bayern’s left wing position could soon be open. The most obvious future competition at Bayern is Kingsley Coman, who manned the spot for much of last season, though the 22-year-old French international is expected to miss the rest of 2018 with an ankle injury.
In different competitions and systems, Coman and Davies have still posted similar numbers since August 2017. Their rates are nearly identical in expected goals, chances created and take-ons.
Should his progression continue, Davies will be the first Canadian international to play in the Bundesliga for Bayern. The eye test, past and present stats, and Bayern’s transfer fee all suggest Davies has a ceiling unmatched by an MLS academy product.
ProVision is the cutting-edge analytics tools developed by OptaPro in partnership with TruMedia Networks. You can find out more about this platform here.