Canada has provided the Bundesliga with some stand-out performers over the years, Bayern Munich's Alphonso Davies being the cream of the crop. It all began one fateful day in the summer of 2000…
August 12 2000 might look like an inconsequential day in the annals of German football history. Defending champions Bayern kicked off their 2001/02 Bundesliga campaign with a 4-1 win over Hertha Berlin, and the biggest surprise of that season's opening weekend was promoted side Bochum's 1-0 victory over 1998 champions Kaiserslautern.
Those who had their lenses trained on the Weserstadion for Werder Bremen's clash with Energie Cottbus witnessed a landmark moment though. Thirty-eight years after the first Bundesliga season, Canada finally contributed a player to Germany's top flight. And not just once, but twice.
After spending two years in Bremen's reserves following his 1998 transfer from Toronto Lynx, Etobicoke, Ontario-born wing-back Paul Stalteri was handed his first Grün-Weißen start. On the oppositie side, Calgary, Alberta-born Kevin McKenna made his Bundesliga debut at the heart of the Cottbus defence, having helped the Brandenburg club clamber out of Bundesliga 2 the previous season.
"A dream come true," was how Stalteri described the match in which he scored Bremen's equaliser on the way to a 3-1 win. "I knew I would always have a chance eventually and I knew this year my chance would come; I just didn't know it would come in the first game of the season!"
Stalteri would go on to seize a number of other opportunities, helping Bremen to a league and cup double in 2004. A four-year stay in England with Tottenham Hotspur and Fulham followed before the versatile defender returned for a second spell in Germany with Borussia Mönchengladbach, concluding his career in 2011 with a Canadian-record 170 Bundesliga appearances.
McKenna spent 2001 to 2005 in Scotland with Hearts before returning for a second term at the Stadion der Freundschaft. A subsequent transfer to Cologne in 2007 brought with it a second Bundesliga 2 promotion in his first season with the Billy Goats, and the "Canadian Oak" finished his career at the RheinEnergieStadion in 2014 with 112 Bundesliga appearances to his name.
A friend indeed
As if that fateful Saturday in 2000 was not story enough, just over six hours after Bremen put Cottbus to the sword, a certain teenaged Owen Hargreaves, also born in Calgary, came off the bench to make his debut in Bayern's evening kick-off at the Allianz Arena.
While Hargreaves went on to represent England 42 times internationally, the Bundesliga has been treated to more of Canada's finest since that halcyon summer. Canada's record cap-holder Julian de Guzman – brother of former Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder Jonathan - enjoyed a fruitful three-year spell at Hannover 96, and Bochum midfielder Daniel Imhof attracted admiring glances from clubs at home and abroad in the 2007/08 season having helped the North Rhine-Westphalia club to promotion the previous year.
Stalteri's time at Gladbach saw him united with international teammate Rob Friend. Friend fired the Foals to promotion in 2007/08 with 18 goals in 33 matches, before adding 10 top-flight strikes over the next two seasons to become the top-scoring Canadian in Bundesliga history. The striker also represented Hertha, Frankfurt and 1860 Munich. Of his seven-year stay in Germany, Friend joked: "You don’t need to find a Canadian restaurant to feel at home here. It’s best just to go to Starbucks!"
A Canadian legacy
Canadians Olivier Occean and Simeon Jackson - strikers with Frankfurt and Eintracht Braunschweig respectively - followed, each enjoying single seasons in Germany's top tier, before the baton was picked up by Marcel de Jong, who had a five-year stay at Augsburg between 2010 and 2015.
"I wanted to go out and show the people and the coach that I could actually do something when he decided to play me," said Stalteri all those years ago. His countrymen have managed to achieve that and then some since - but none more so than Davies.
Davies arrived in the world a touch under three months after Stalteri and Hargreaves debuted in the Bundesliga. He was born in Buduburam, a refugee camp in the Gomoa East District of Ghana, where his parents had fled to during the Second Liberian Civil War. The family moved to Windsor, Ontario, when Davies was five, and later settled in Edmonton, Alberta - but it was a further 12 years before he would receive his Canadian citizenship.
By then, he had already become the youngest player to appear in the United Soccer League, and made history as the first player born in the 2000s to play in Major League Soccer - aged just 15 years, eight months and 15 days - with Vancouver Whitecaps.
Like Hargreaves before him, it was Bayern who paved the way for his big break on European soil.
"We signed Alphonso Davies a year ago because we saw him as one of the best players of his generation," Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic told Munich's Abendzeitung in November 2019. "We're delighted that this is now being confirmed with every game he plays. The fans have been waiting for a young player like him with such raw pace, technique and a physical presence. He can become a really important player for Bayern."
Davies already has. In under 18 months, the Canada international has gone from hot prospect one minute to fully fledged Bundesliga force the next. Already the first Canada international to play and score for Bayern, as well as the first born after 2000 to find the net for the club - on account of his milestone strike from the bench against Mainz in March 2019 - the teenager made 24 league starts in 2019/20, capping his breakout season with a second successive Bundesliga winner's medal.
Watch: Alphonso Davies under the tactical microscope
Davies was rewarded with a new long-term deal along the way, having exploded onto the scene not as a winger but at left-back. His progress has been rapid, befitting the Bundesliga's fastest player on record. By the time Canada co-hosts the 2026 FIFA World Cup alongside the USA and Mexico, there's no telling how good the 2019/20 Bundesliga Rookie of the Season might be.
Wayne Gretzky, Cindy Klassen, Steve Nash, Christine Sinclair: Canada has never been short of sporting icons. Yet Davies is the first of his kind - a genuinely world-class male soccer Canuck.