There are many different ways to describe a great goal in soccer. But there is no exact word that perfectly captures the one scored by Alfonso Davies against Panama on Wednesday night in Toronto.
It was a lost cause, a hustle game, a breakaway and some sublime touches shaded by a goaljoy. It was the kind of goal that led to a powerful need for the viewer to scan the press box so that you could close eyes with someone, stare at each other for several long seconds, and telepathically tell each other , “We just shared something special together. We were both here when This Happened.”
Prior to Wednesday’s game, Davis, only 20 years old, was already the best male football player in Canadian history. This is not an opinion. This is an objective fact.
But in the 66th minute of the game, he did something that could not be expected of any Canadian player. He scored a goal that put him, at least for a moment, in the company of doing his best. For a moment Davis was Pele or Diego Maradona.
It wasn’t just the goal, which was fantastic. Lots of people score great soccer goals.
It was this confidence that made it so special. The kind of confidence that made Davis start running from twenty yards inside his own half when the ball sluggishly headed toward the touchline forty, fifty yards away. A ball buried so far in No Man’s Land, so many Panamanians possessed, no sane player would waste energy chasing it in a 1-1 game.
Think of all your favorite players. All players are guesses, I’m sure. All of them are fully committed to the national crest. All are hungry for glory and fast as you please.
How many of them do you think would have gone for that ball in that situation? None. Not one of them. Why do something pointless that’s going to make you look silly?
But Davis is a different kind of cat. Apparently, he saw a ball a few postal codes away and thought to himself, “Oh look. That’s for me,” and hit his inner thrust button.
Getting to him before the ball rolled was a victory of will. But theft? funny. Picking it up with your back foot, bringing it under full control within a single step, and then coming back at full speed a few steps later? physically impossible. Physicists will tell you. Sure, you saw it, but it didn’t actually happen. Look at the math.
Harold Cummings. Panamanian Davis took the ball with the same name.
Poor Harold. For the rest of his life, his countrymen would come up to him in bars and say, ‘Hey, aren’t you the man…’ and Harold would say, ‘No, you’re thinking of some more Cummings’.
The actual scoring of the goal was nothing compared to all this, and it was still really something. Decking to the first defender, stepping back to create space, ‘freezes the keeper by opening his body so that it looks like he’s headed for the far corner, instead using the inch-wide aperture inside the near post. Aiming for, and then hitting the ball. With all his might in spite of all his speed taking him away from Golmouth.
There were about five different specific skills needed to score there and if you’ve mastered two of them, you can play professional football.
It was not Canada’s greatest ever football goal. this is easy. It was the race for the best Canadian goal of any kind, by any person, at any level, in any sport.
All that set it apart from Paul Henderson, Marie-Philippe Paulin or Mario Lemieux was the size of the stage. In terms of quality and aspiration, it surpasses them all, and by a distance.
The goal was the clear path of the game. In addition to being extraordinary, it also broke Panama’s back. A couple of pushes in the game were signs of frustration. Besides whipping in fear and confusion, what else are you going to do when faced with a supernatural genius like Davis? It is almost understandable.
If Davis was a Panamanian, he could run for president tomorrow. But she’s Canadian, so we’ll wait to see what happens before the rest of us get too excited.
It’s almost (but not quite) a shame that Target is the one people will talk about, because it takes away the entire performance from Davis for the evening.
From off, he was everywhere. When he jogged there was no point in the game. He was either standing still or running out of the flat. He broke through the defense of Panama so often and so easily that it seemed that the Central Americans had been told he had coots and wanted to keep his distance.
He gave his teammates so many chances that the score could have been 6- or 7-1. Although he did not get credit for it, he scored the first goal by hitting a corner of Panamanian’s head. It was like watching Gretzky on the grass.
Despite the pre-match hype, all that wasn’t exactly a grand occasion. There is still a lot to qualify. Losing it is not a total disaster and winning it is not a guarantee of anything.
But after watching Davies play like this, you are now fully aware of the issue that will define this resurgence (as a ‘resurrection’ would suggest there was a ‘boom’ in the last 35 years) of the Canadian men’s team.
It’s ‘Will Canada finally not be able to make it to the men’s World Cup?’
It’s ‘Can Davis do this often enough to drag Canada to the World Cup?’
And then – it must be getting ahead of itself, but what the hell – ‘What is Davis capable of doing once he loses the World Cup? How many international superpowers can it crush the dreams of?’
So although taking big risks is not in our national character, nor has soccer (the male version) proven to be a good bet in one’s lifetime, now is the time to get on this bandwagon.
In the span of a few weeks, this team doesn’t care, one thing for a few aestheticians, which looks like it could be a competitor, for one of those teams that can be touched. Luck. I’m not saying that, because there are only a few teams like this in global history. But maybe.
The source of that possibility wears number 19 and does his day job in Germany.
And if all that possibility really blossomed into something special, Davis instead looked up, saw a ball he had no business for, and decided to go for it anyway.