2020-21: A year for Canadians in Europe to remember

Written by Sean Ibbott

As the major European football leagues draw to a close on the men’s side, this year will be a year for Canadian soccer fans to remember. In ways never seen before, Canadian footballers have been right up there with some of the world’s best, even playing key roles in top European title races.

Today, Bayern Munich claimed their ninth successive Bundesliga title win, with Canadian-born Alphonso Davies one of the stars of the day, and one of the stars of the team’s success so far in 2021. An early departure from the UEFA Champions League aside, Bayern have blown the pack away again this season, and Davies has been instrumental to their success. A special gift of speed, an elite one v one defender and an exceptional dribbler, sometimes we have to pinch ourselves that Davies is still only 20 years old. Question marks have been raised at times over his defensive abilities, but the Canadian looks more and more assured by the game, growing his positional understanding. His success dates back all the way back to late 2019 when Hansi Flick re-integrated Thomas Müller and added the explosive Davies into the starting lineup to accommodate David Alaba’s positional change to centre-back. Bayern instantly had a pacey roadrunner at the back who could catch any player in the world and kickstart a deadly counterattack. Playing alongside several veteran defenders only helped him, and allowed the Vancouver Whitecaps youth product to do greater damage in attack. Many Canadian soccer fans look at Alphonso Davies as “the chosen one.”, and barring a major injury he will go down as the greatest the nation has ever seen. However far he goes, the Canadian men’s soccer team will follow his lead.

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Heading to France, the Ligue 1 title race has yielded a surprise leader in Lille OSC, and Canadian forward Jonathan David. Lille play a grind-it-out defensive style of play with David an integral component to their robust 4-4-2 system. The Ottawa raised superstar didn’t turn pro until three years ago with Belgian team K.A.A. Gent, and is now the second highest scorer in Ligue 1 since the turn of the year. He’s developing into one of the most dangerous goal-scoring forwards in the world, and only a man who already has that reputation – Kylian Mbappe, sits ahead of him for goals in 2021. David has been scoring consistently all season long in Lille’s incredible title hunt, and scored arguably the biggest game winning goal in Canadian history in a top European league title race in their win against Mbappé’s second place Paris Saint-Germain – a 1-0 victory over the defending champions. Davies and David are not only the present, but the future of the Canadian men’s soccer team. To make matters all the more fun for Canadian soccer fans, they are not just two of the best Canadian players or two of the best young players in the world, but two of the very best players in the world full-stop. But Canada’s exploits this year don’t stop at Jonathan David and Alphonso Davies.

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Heading to Turkey, Besiktas is holding onto a slim lead atop the Turkish Superlig thanks to the leadership from their captain Atiba Hutchinson from Brampton, Ontario. His teammate Cyle Larin, also from Brampton, recently scored 4 goals in a single game with Besiktas, and has been the top scorer in the Superlig since the new year. With rumours swirling that Richie Laryea is headed to Besiktas next year, we might see three Canadians starting for the top Turkish team, that is, if Larin hasn’t transferred to an ever bigger club by then. In Serbia, Red Star Belgrade captain and keeper Milan Borjan is backstopping them to another huge win in the Serbian SuperLiga. In Scotland, Canadian captain Scott Arfield is commanding the midfield to help Rangers to their first title in a decade. In Canada, hometown boy Jonathan Osorio helped lead Toronto FC to the Canadian championship last year (however Forge FC had to forfeit due to the pandemic). Finally, Mark-Anthony Kaye, a former Canadian University Sport athlete with the York Lions, led the LAFC midfield to an MLS title in 2019 and has started the 2021 season in excellent form.

It is undeniable that Canadians have played crucial roles in the title aspirations of many top clubs in Europe and North America. One could argue that no country outside of Europe and South America has as many players performing as well as our home native land. Soccer pundits all over the United States are quick to proclaim the American young talents to be the best in the CONCACAF region, however they are missing one crucial ingredient, winning at the top level. Canada on the other hand, is a clear standout and may walk to not just a title with Alphonso Davies, but several others.


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