Individual matchup highlights NYCFC-Whitecaps game
They are the faces of their respective franchises on opposite ends of the soccer spectrum.
On one side is New York City FC captain David Villa, who has won just about everything possible in his time playing at Barcelona and Spain. He was the first signing for NYCFC and is in the twilight of his career at 36 years old.
On the other side is Alphonso Davies, the Vancouver Whitecaps' 17-year-old phenom who is just starting a promising career that will take him to Europe after the MLS season, where he will compete for powerhouse Bayern Munich after an MLS record transfer late last month.
They've both been impact players for their sides with price-of-admission attacking movements and highlight-reel goals.
But when NYCFC hosts Vancouver on Saturday night at Yankee Stadium, two of the league's best attacking players will not square off.
Villa will be forced to sit out the match, per MLS policy, after missing Wednesday night's All-Star Game because of a knee injury. League rules state any player who is unable to play in the match will be forced to miss their next league game.
That means a seventh straight match without Villa, who has been limited to 13 appearances this season, though the NYCFC captain has eight goals and four assists during that time.
Although NYCFC coach Dome Torrent admitted Villa was likely only going to play 20 or 30 minutes in a return from a knee injury suffered in the first half of a June 24 match against Toronto FC, he is frustrated that his hand was forced by a policy he said he doesn't comprehend.
"I don't understand this rule," said Torrent, whose first game in charge was the aforementioned match against Toronto. "I understand the rule that one player doesn't want to go to play this game. I accept. But everybody knows David was injured the last six games. But I don't know the rules about that. I don't know."
Davies, who played 31 minutes in Wednesday's All-Star Game against defending Italian champions Juventus in Atlanta, appears to be playing freer after the $13 million transfer to Bayern. He was a one-man wrecking crew in a 4-2 win over Minnesota United FC on Saturday at BC Place with two goals and two assists.
"First 20 minutes, I thought he looked like got his boots on the wrong feet, but he was probably trying too hard," Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson said. "He doesn't need to try too hard. When he plays his game naturally, he does what he does. It was an exceptional performance by him."
But will Davies suit up against NYCFC? That is in question because Vancouver (8-9-5) hosts Toronto FC in the first leg of the Canadian Championship final on Wednesday at BC Place. Robinson promised there'd be some rotation in his side but wasn't about to tip his cards as to which regular starters would sit against NYCFC.
Whoever plays, Robinson said, will have a difficult task against NYCFC (13-5-4), which is coming off a 3-1 loss at Seattle on Sunday but is 10-0-1 at Yankee Stadium this season.
"They're at the top of the table for a reason," Robinson said. "They've got key players in key areas. David Villa's not been playing, but they've got the boy (Jo Inge) Berget up front who's a real strong handful.
"I went to the game Sunday against Seattle and Maxi Moralez was the best player on the field by a mile. It's important we try and deal with him. He makes everything happen for them. They've got good wide players in (Jesus) Medina as well so it's going to be a very difficult game for us."
Updated August 2, 2018