By Neil W. Blackmon
This is the second of seven pieces highlighting the most intriguing subplots of the upcoming MLS season. Our first two preview pieces are linked below:
6. Can Charlie Davies return to pre-accident form? And if he can, are he and Andy Najar enough to change fortunes at DC United? And what of Charlie Davies the Human Being ?
Let’s get something straight as we approach our sixth most intriguing MLS subplot for the 2011 campaign. Let’s be Lt. Kaffee and Colonel Jessup clear. How clear? Crystal Clear. This quite easily could have been the number one storyline/subplot. The reason it isn’t is I don’t think the league is about one player, and I certainly don’t think the top story for MLS should be about a young man who made an error judgment, spent over a year recuperating and rehabilitating after that error, and is just now going to determine whether or not he has the stuff to continue competing at the highest level. It’s the stuff of novels and films—but MLS is bigger than that to me and there are teams and other pieces of intrigue that quite simply I think warrant more, if not at least equitable, amounts of our attention. Maybe it is just Charlie Davies fatigue that makes me write that—maybe it’s that part of me still wonders why he got in that car in the first place, and then I remember that we all make mistakes. Either way, it’s slated at “six” and we think that’s fair. There is no question it is newsworthy. There is no question a great deal of USMNT fans who otherwise are “casual” MLS folks will be paying closer attention. Finally, there is no question anyone who has seen how hard he’s worked, read the humble way he’s handled the situation and accepted blame and personal responsibility, and desperately wants a proven strike partner for Jozy Altidore is pulling for them. The only remaining mystery then is the little matter of pulling off the comeback.
Can Davies pull it off? Certainly there’s the matter of his personal confidence, which suggests he’s more than capable. He sat down with Steven Goff of Soccer Insider and The Washington Post this week and noted that he’s finally capable of playing ninety minutes without fatigue. He feels good about his first touch, and scored a goal this week (it was ruled offside) after a marvelous first touch and finish. According to Davies, his timing and sense for the game, when to make his runs, when things are developing is improving and about where it was prior to the accident. These are all positive developments.
There are some negatives too, and Davies openly acknowledges them. He says he is “hesitant” at times, not fully confident how his body will hold up taking on defenders, making sharp pivots. He thinks time is the answer to those problems, but admits he was more aggressive prior to the injury. None of that is earth-shattering for a player coming off injury, but it is part of the reason DC United took a large risk when it brought Davies into the fold. Davies says he sometimes feels like he is “thinking too much” right now, which is problematic for a forward, particularly one who was suited to quick and decisive runs and counterattacks. Perhaps nothing more embodied why a guy like Davies needs to think quickly, react and play rather than react, think and play more than his brilliant goal at the Azteca, which was the stuff of counterattacking soccer manuals.
The counterattacking, goal at the Azteca CD9 is the Davies DC United hopes is the reward for their risk. They need goals after scoring the least number in MLS last year. They need a spark up top to compliment the improvements and (future) star power in the midfield. And they need something to make the fan base inspired again, and, mired in three years of losing campaigns and a difficult stadium situation, they need it now. So Davies is a gamble but the high-end of the reward is high-rent district stuff. A productive Davies can help reinvigorate a franchise, generate increased media attention for the league, and inspire people who are up against it. But before you get carried away with visions of grandeur, make no mistake. That’s the Davies we can’t even be sure Charlie thinks will return.
Beyond success on the pitch, there is another, darker, but at least in this writer’s view no less important side to this story. There is the matter of Charlie Davies the human being. Ashley Roberta, a 22 year old recent college graduate who planned to attend law school the following year, who “lit up the room” and “was the girl everyone wanted to talk to”, died that fateful night that Charlie Davies lived. The fact is even writers who interview Davies can’t grasp what this means to the young man, how it weighs (or doesn’t) weigh on him from day to day, and what, if any, degree of blame he feels for her death. The fact is that she isn’t coming back. This is why Davies the human being matters in the DC United comeback story, whether he, the club, or even you the fan and reader want it or not. A great writer and colleague Brian Straus has written a compelling piece on this aspect of the Davies story here, and it is a must read. Most of what is written in that piece is wholly agreeable. The only comment worthy of addition is the following: as hard as Davies has worked, and as hard as he wants to feel, on a soccer field, at least, like “the accident never happened”, as he told Steven Goff, it is equally important that Charlie Davies the human being remember that the accident did happen. Devoting time and energy to public service, the DC community, and people in need would be a great place to start.
Neil W. Blackmon is Editor-In-Chief and Co-Founder of The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on Twitter at @nwb_usmnt.