VANCOUVER – Clubs from Europe’s top leagues have made a habit of coming to North America on pre-season tours in recent years.
The goal is to bond as a group, get in shape and connect with fans.
But every so often there’s also a player on the other side the visitors are keen to see.
For Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew, whose team will take on the Vancouver Whitecaps in a friendly Tuesday, it’s 15-year-old midfielder Alphonso Davies.
“Stay away,” Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson joked after Pardew referenced the teenager in Monday’s pre-match press conference.
Davies is the youngest player in Major League Soccer after signing a contract last week before making his full debut as a substitute in Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Orlando City SC.
“I think he’s probably going to be hidden from me somewhere,” Pardew said with a smile. “Hopefully he’ll emerge.”
Palace, which finished 15th in the English Premier League in 2015-16, is wrapping up its tour of North America following games against the Philadelphia Union of MLS and FC Cincinnati of the NASL.
The club lost 2-1 to Manchester United in last season’s FA Cup final and has a couple of new additions in camp, including record signing Andros Townsend, a winger who joined from Newcastle United for 13 million pounds, and defender James Tomkins, recently added from West Ham United for 10 million pounds.
“Certainly I’ll be playing a lot of senior players and a lot of our better players,” Pardew said of his plans for Tuesday. “For us, it’s a tough exercise, but we’re looking forward to it.”
While Palace is still prepping for its season, the Whitecaps are in the middle of their campaign. These exhibition games can be a headache for coaches and players alike, especially with the busy MLS schedule, but Robinson said it’s an event that should be embraced.
“It’s a great opportunity for the guys to pit themselves against some top-class players,” said Robinson, whose squad makes a fraction of the salary paid out to Palace’s roster. “These guys get to watch, very early on Saturday mornings, these players play in the Premier League. To be able to step on the field against them and show what they can do is every young player’s dream.
“Every player wants to be involved in that game. We’re looking forward to it. We’ll give Alan’s team a good test.”
Whitecaps defender Tim Parker said he will use the match at B.C. Place Stadium as a learning experience even if he doesn’t get on the field.
“I’m going to be watching the other centre backs and see what their tendencies are and what they do well,” said the 23-year-old. “I want to be at their level one day … me picking up some of their tendencies and some of their skills is going to be important.”
Pardew, who has managed a number of clubs at different levels in England, said Tuesday’s game should benefit everyone involved.
“For Carl’s guys, it’s a great challenge for them,” he said. “We have some massive reputations in our group and you can bring them down to earth. I actually enjoy watching it so I’ll be looking for one or two to do that.”
Notes: The Whitecaps’ last international friendly was back in 2011 against Manchester City at Empire Field. … Five players who took part in the European Championships are not on the trip with Palace, including goalkeeper Steve Mananda and midfielder Yohan Cabaye of France, and the Welsh trio of goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey and midfielders Johnny Williams and Joe Ledley.
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