As the Best of 2011 series continues on MLSsoccer.com, we're counting down the 11 most important stories of the year in Major League Soccer. We'll take a look at one story per day from Dec. 21 until Dec. 31, when we unveil what our editors voted as the Story of the Year in MLS in 2011.
The countdown continues with No. 6, as MLSsoccer.com correspondent Charles Boehm looks at the emotional return of Charlie Davies.
“What might have been?”
It’s the most haunting question in sports, and few in American soccer epitomize it like Charlie Davies.
"There was no discussion. I was taking that ball. I told Wolff right away, ‘I’m taking this.’ And Dax came over with the ball, and he handed it to me and says, ‘We trust you and believe in you.’ That says it all.”
-Charlie Davies, on his PK
goal in his MLS debut
The charismatic striker’s speed and scoring sparked the US national team in the run-up to the 2010 World Cup, inspiring big dreams among fans. But that all changed on Monday, October 13, 2009, when Davies made the life-changing decision to break curfew and head out on the town, a night that ended in a horrific, deadly car accident on the George Washington Parkway just outside Washington, D.C., just two nights before the Yanks’ last qualifying match, against Costa Rica at RFK Stadium.
As Davies lay shattered in an area hospital, 26,243 spectators paid him a poignant tribute in the ninth minute at RFK, holding “9” signs aloft in honor of his jersey number. His teammates were clearly moved, too, rallying from a 2-0 deficit to draw level in the final seconds and thus earn top spot in the final CONCACAF reckoning.
Davies recovered with more strength, speed and courage than most people could ever hope to muster. Yet his efforts to make the US World Cup roster fell short and training performances at his French club Sochaux left the technical staff doubtful that he would ever be the same player.
"D.C. eliminated from MLS playoff race with draw vs. Portland"
The Washington Post
And millions of others watched sadly, and wondered what might have been.
“CD9” himself never stopped dreaming and working, though, and his long journey came full circle at the very same stadium on March 19 of this year, when he finally took the field for a competitive match again.
This time he wore the colors of RFK’s home club, D.C. United, who had seen enough lingering promise to take Davies in the spring on a yearlong loan from Sochaux as the proud Black-and-Red rebuilt following the worst season in franchise history. And this time the fans could pay raucous homage to their No. 9’s performance, not his memory, as he came off the bench to score two goals in a 3-1 United win over the Columbus Crew.
"Once that final whistle blew and I looked at the fans, I lost it emotionally. I cried," Davies told media afterward. "Throughout this whole process, they've stuck with me. It just came out of me. And it was triggered by their support, when I looked over at the fans and saw the 9s. I just let it all go. The emotion poured out of me.
“It was crossing the finish line."
He went on to notch 11 goals and an assist for D.C. in a turbulent but hopeful campaign for United, and while club and player have since parted ways, Davies will always be associated with Washington, the city that helped him – and us – stop wondering what might have been, and go back to building what will be.
WATCH: Charlie Davies gets his first MLS goal