Canada’s ‘other’ young men’s soccer star deserves way more attention


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Jonathan David had an Alphonso Davies-like season — but with much less fanfare

Last year, Alphonso Davies was the toast of Canadian soccer. Before his 20th birthday, the electrifying Edmontonian won the Bundesliga’s rookie-of-the-season award and helped Bayern Munich capture both the German league and UEFA Champions League titles. The latter made him the first Canadian national-team player to win the most prestigious title in men’s club soccer. Combine that on-field brilliance (remember that assist vs. Barcelona?) with his youth and a rich backstory — he was born in a refugee camp in Ghana to Liberian parents who’d fled a civil war — and it’s no wonder Davies captured the imagination of Canadian sports fans and media. He closed out 2020 by winning a share of the Lou Marsh Award for Canadian athlete of the year.

Fast-forward to this year, and another very young Canadian soccer player just put the finishing touches on a phenomenal rookie season in one of Europe’s top leagues — but with a fraction of the fanfare Davies received.

Jonathan David drew some attention last summer when the French club Lille paid a reported $35 million US to acquire the then 20-year-old striker from Belgium’s Ghent, where he’d just won a share of the league scoring title with 18 goals in 27 matches. That transfer fee broke the record for a Canadian player — previously held by Davies, who commanded $22 million when Bayern bought him from the Vancouver Whitecaps two years earlier.

David got off to a slow start in France’s Ligue 1, but the New York City-born, Ottawa-raised rookie finished strong. His goal Sunday, on the final day of the season, was his 13th — tied for second-most on his team and 12th-most in Ligue 1. It’s also a single-season record for a Canadian player in one of European soccer’s “big five” leagues. David added an assist in that season-ending 2-1 victory over Angers, which gave Lille the league championship by one point over Paris Saint-Germain — the deep-pocketed powerhouse that had won seven of the previous eight French titles and boasts superstars Neymar and Kylian Mbappé on its roster.

David isn’t just some selfish, one-dimensional, Jamie Tartt-esque scorer, either. As the Liverpool-focused blog Rousing the Kop noted in this post earlier in the season (after Liverpool had reportedly considered buying David from Gent), he’s also an excellent defensive forward. Per the advanced stats tracked on FBref, David is the best forward in all of Europe’s big five leagues at pressuring opponents who are either carrying, receiving or releasing the ball in his attacking third of the field. Over the entire pitch, he pressed opponents an average of 19.59 times per game, which put him in the 90th percentile of big-five forwards. 5.38 of these pressures per game resulted in his team taking possession of the ball, which ranked in the 93rd percentile. The stats also show David is elite for his position at intercepting passes and at tackling opponents who try to dribble past him.

Unlike Davies last year, David won’t have a chance to frost his brilliant rookie season in the Champions League final, which takes place Saturday between English rivals Manchester City and Chelsea. Lille didn’t qualify for the 2020-21 Champions League tournament at all because it finished just fourth in Ligue 1 the year before. But it’ll be there next season (along with PSG) after its surprising domestic-league title.

David also missed Canada’s first two World Cup qualifying matches, in late March, because the French league refused to release its foreign players at that time due to coronavirus concerns. But Davies led Canada to lopsided wins over Bermuda (5-1) and the Cayman Islands (11-0), and David should be available for the final two matches of the opening round: on June 5 vs. Aruba and June 8 vs. Suriname. Having a pair of young stars like this on the roster bodes well for Canada’s World Cup hopes — if not for the 2022 tournament in Qatar, then in 2026 when Canada will co-host with the U.S. and Mexico and presumably be granted an automatic spot. Read more about David’s big year and the other Canadians who made an impact in European club soccer this season in this piece by CBC Sports contributor John Molinaro.

WATCH | David leads Lille’s title-clinching victory:

Canadian Jonathan David helped lift Lille to a 2-1 win over Angers to secure the French league title over PSG by one point. 1:23

Quickly…

Ron MacLean apologized. This controversy is getting tougher and tougher to follow, but here goes: During the second intermission of last night’s Toronto-Montreal playoff game, the Hockey Night in Canada host responded to analyst Kevin Bieksa calling himself “probably the most positive guy on this panel” by joking (or attempting to joke, anyway) that “You have a photo of a guy with his tarp off, you’re definitely positive for something.” Tarp means shirt, and MacLean was referring to a picture showing a shirtless Anthony Stewart (one of the other panellists) that Bieksa had jokingly placed on a shelf over his shoulder in his home studio. It’s unclear exactly what the 61-year-old MacLean was getting at (nothing new for him), but some people on Twitter took it as a possible homophobic slur. MacLean responded today with a tweet saying “I regret and apologize for what happened last night” and explaining that he meant Stewart would test positive for “rum” because in the photo Stewart was “enjoying a rum party.” Read more about MacLean’s comment and watch it here.

Wayne Gretzky got a new gig. The Great One announced yesterday that he’s stepping down from his ceremonial-seeming post as “vice chairman” of the Edmonton Oilers. Today, Gretzky revealed he’s signed a multi-year deal to be a studio analyst for U.S.-based Turner Sports, which recently landed the rights to broadcast some NHL games starting next season. Read more about Gretzky’s move to American TV and whether he’s a good fit for it here.

Luka Doncic is at it again. In last year’s NBA playoffs, the young Dallas Mavericks star made a run at single-handedly upsetting Kawhi Leonard and the heavily favoured Los Angeles Clippers in the first round. Dallas fell in six games, but Doncic averaged 31 points, 9.8 rebounds and 8.7 assists for the series. Now, it looks like he might finish the job. Doncic scored 31 in Game 1 and poured in 39 last night to lead the Mavs to a stunning 2-0 series lead over L.A., with the next two games to be held in a Dallas arena that will allow about 15,000 fans. Doncic, 22, came into this season as the betting favourite to win the NBA MVP award before he and the Mavericks squandered it with a slow start. But they’re now 19-9 since April 1 and playing like a contender in the suddenly wide-open-looking Western Conference.

And finally…

Remember this photo?

(Rich Lam/Getty Images)

Taken 10 years ago by photographer Richard Lam during the riot following the Vancouver Canucks’ loss to Boston in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final, it became an instant sensation and is still stunning to look at a decade later (some people at the time even accused it of being staged). ESPN hockey writer Greg Wyshynski had the great idea to do a “where are they now?” story on the young couple in the photo, and it turns out they’re still together. Alex Thomas and Scott Jones now live in Australia, where they recently opened a bar and are raising a three-year-old daughter. Wyshynski’s piece has some good stories from Lam, Thomas and Jones about what went down that night and their ensuing 15 minutes of fame. You can read it here.

Coming up on CBC Sports

3-on-3 basketball Olympic qualifying tournament: A team from Edmonton can win a spot in the men’s event in Tokyo, where 3-on-3 ball will make its Olympic debut, by finishing in the top three of this 20-team qualifier in Austria. Canada plays its first two games Thursday: at 12:40 p.m. ET vs. Croatia and 2:45 p.m. ET vs. the Netherlands. Watch them both live here, where you can stream the full men’s and women’s morning session (5-10 a.m. ET) and afternoon session (11 a.m. ET to 4 p.m. ET).

Beach volleyball: Watch Canadian Olympic gold-medal contenders Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes play in a World Tour stop in Russia live Thursday at 2 a.m. ET on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app. Their match will be followed by two others featuring Canadian duos.

Regular volleyball: Watch Canada face the Dominican Republic in the women’s Nations League tournament in Italy live Thursday at 8:45 a.m. ET. If you’re reading this before 5 p.m. ET on Wednesday, you can also catch the conclusion of today’s Canada vs. U.S. match here.

You’re up to speed.



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