Davies, Featured, Major League Soccer, October 2011, USMNT

Assessing The Charlie Davies Loan: Europe Or Bust?

Could Charlie Davies' loan to D.C. United end up being only a mixed blessing for a player still struggling to find playing time?

By Andrew Villegas

Yeoman Dwayne De Rosario has one goal every 173 minutes this year. Sebastien Le Toux has one every 270. Rising Star Brek Shea? One every 241 minutes.

And Charlie Davies, that death-defying, on-loan, one-time USMNT’er? He’s scored one goal every 137 minutes, better than them all.

Yet, there Davies is every week, it seems, relegated to the D.C. United bench as a substitute, often playing in the dying embers of the game only.

Is the handwriting on the wall that since Davies likely won’t be around next year (he goes back to French club Sochaux in February next year), D.C. United manager Ben Olsen is opting to give other players that’ll be in D.C. next year more playing time? Or is Davies just not ready physically, emotionally, mentally?

Davies told the Washington Examiner of his frustration with the amount of playing time he gets: “I’m physically fine.” Said Olsen of his lineup in DCU’s last game, when the Red and Black gave up two added time goals to the Chicago Fire to lose 2-1: “I think putting [De Rosario] up top was the right move, if that’s what you’re asking.”

De Rosario’s trade in late June to DCU has hurt Davies’ playing time, that much is true, especially with the tear that De Rosario has been on – 12 goals in 15 games. And Olsen has used De Rosario at times as both an attacking midfielder and as a second striker. Other strikers – Josh Wolff, Chris Pontius and Blake Brettschneider – have also had success, but some have provided an opportunity for Davies to step up, namely a sputtering Joseph Ngwenya. But Davies has struggled: Since De Rosario moved to D.C., Davies has scored only three goals, a hat trick against Chivas USA.

In total, Davies has scored 11 times this season, including four that came from the penalty spot. He sits tied for 9th in scoring. And among the top 25 scorers in MLS, only Luke Rodgers has played fewer minutes than Davies.

So he can score … just not as prolifically as De Rosario.

Crystal Ball: Maybe Olsen wants Davies off the bench to spark his attack in the second half? That’s another possibility, a likely one, especially since no manager wants to play from behind, and so it stands to reason that you’d play your best strikers from the start, subbing them out only if they get tired or are ineffective. And especially if you’re questioning the match-fitness or form of one of your players, either starter or substitute, Olsen bringing Davies off the bench makes sense.

Davies arrival in D.C. was heralded as the shove that got the proud, storied D.C. United back into the postseason once again, but the club has collapsed too often late in games this season to be a factor despite positive play from De Rosario and Perry Kitchen’s coming out party. Andy Najar has not looked the player he was last year (Big asterisk: the undulation given to him was premature anyway, despite remaining promise) and injuries have taken their toll again on the club.

Hopes were high when it was announced that MLS and D.C. United had acquired the Sochaux striker on loan that it could help him find his way back into the USMNT lineup. So far, that hasn't been the case.

That being said, D.C. United is still in the playoff picture. As Ives Galarcep points out here: If D.C. United manages to win their final two games (both at home this week) and NYRB loses at Philly, they are through to the playoffs. Also, if DCU win out and NYRB ties but United has a +7 goal differential in their final two games, then DCU is in.

But this is a D.C. United team that is far different than it was a month ago when Davies scored that hat trick against Chivas USA that put D.C. United in the final playoff spot for a time. Form dips, and nearly all their offensive output is coming from De Rosario, who is bound to slow down some time. When he does, DCU may struggle even more.

But perhaps the simplest explanation for Davies’ lack of playing time is the right one: Olsen might simply not think that Davies gives him the best shot to win. If that’s the case, one has to worry about the turn Davies’ career has taken in MLS, and shows the mixed blessing MLS gives players.

MLS can be the harbinger for a resurrected career for stalling USMNT players, and USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann has beaten around the bush on the refrain that it’s less important where a potential USMNT player plays but that he actually gets minutes. A move to MLS, however, can also magnify a potential national team player’s struggles. If you can’t start in MLS, what hope do you have to be successful in European leagues given the chip that lies on the shoulder of many managers overseas?

Davies is in D.C. until February, which will allow him to train in the offseason with D.C. United, be re-evaluated and then seek a new loan or plan his move back to Sochaux – if they’ll have him. By that time, we’ll know if Davies was called into the USMNT January camp, which would help his club situation even more.

We should have a better idea this week of his future: D.C. United’s last two games will make clearer where Davies stands – both for club and country.

Andrew Villegas is Senior MLS Writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at andrew.villegas@gmail.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @ReporterAndrew.

Andrew Villegas