Jeff Bradley: For Charlie Davies, glimpses into the past not enough to define the future
What I remember most about Charlie Davies – maybe what most of us remember most – is the pass.
It was the pass from the left wing that set up Landon Donovan's goal, which put the US ahead 2-0 against mighty Brazil in the final of the 2009 Confederations Cup. The pass was pure, and it was the product of quick thinking. It was perfection.
Maybe for younger fans it seems like a long time ago, but for me it seems like yesterday.
We were just getting to know Davies then, and he seemed to be getting better with every minute he spent on the field with the national team. We loved his speed and his tenacity. During that Confederations Cup, Davies would chase anything for the good of the team.
But the pass? That was a soccer play. It was a play that made us imagine the future.
Of course, we know all too well what happened. A well-documented 2009 car accident ended the life of a female passenger, badly injured Davies and suddenly made anything anyone wanted to say about the man as a soccer player seemed rightfully trivial.
We may have wondered how Davies would pick up the pieces, but his return to the game should not have mattered enough for anyone to invest too much emotion. Not after we'd seen photos of the car, basically cut in two. Not after we'd learned the driver of the vehicle was drunk. With a clear conscience, who could think about soccer after seeing that? Fans were just happy he was alive.
So even as we remember the emotions we felt when US fans at RFK Stadium honored Davies with his jersey number on placards, his career as a soccer player still seemed so distant. Even as Davies inched toward recovery we thought less about him as the soccer player and more as a man who somehow survived through the mayhem. I know I have.
Nearly four years have passed. Davies returned briefly to his French club Sochaux after the accident, where he played 10 games and didn't score. He came to D.C. United on loan in 2011 and, though he scored 11 times, he did not remind anyone of the player we saw in 2009 before he declined DC’s offer to return. The next season he was off to Denmark to play for Randers, but he didn't score in 23 games.
So his recent move to New England – and his potential debut this Saturday against the Chicago Fire (7:30 pm ET; Stream of the Week on MLSsoccer.com) – haven’t made as much noise as we may have once expected. He'll have to earn his minutes on a team that's still got a decent shot to make the MLS playoffs.
While there may be a few sentimental folks who think back to 2009 and the player that might have been, it probably makes more sense, in hindsight to digest that Davies never really was anything more than a prospect. A kid with a chance to do some good things if he kept working, kept running the way he did in the Confed Cup, and improved in other areas.
Go back and look at what was accomplished before the accident. It wasn't much. Just barely enough to give us hope. Seventeen caps and four goals with the USMNT, the most impressive easily the one he scored in Azteca Stadium in 2009, which gave the US a lead over Mexico they eventually lost. Like the pass against Brazil, it made us imagine Davies might just be something special.
But Davies was far from a finished product. Even before the accident there were so many more soccer tests for Davies to pass. And being in-form for a small stretch of national team games is something many American forwards have done in the past, and will be repeated in the future.
Eddie Johnson did amazing things in the run-up to the 2006 World Cup, played himself off the team and, only now has begun to re-emerge. Juan Agudelo scored against Argentina and was a darling during the 2011 Gold Cup, but now he’ll have to fight his way back.
Even this week many fans were left breathless by the 27 minutes of work put in by Aron Johannsson on Wednesday in Bosnia, but haven’t we learned from the past? Scoring goals over a long period of time with the national team is something very few have been able to accomplish.
Of course, it was fun to think about Davies continuing on the path he began to blaze. Even now, you might even find yourself going back to watch tapes of some of the qualifiers he played. See him running at defenders in Honduras. See him stretching defenses. It’s impossible not to imagine the future.
But Davies is now 27 years old, four years removed from the glimpse and the glory. We can't really imagine the future anymore, because it is here. This is it for Charlie Davies.
The pass? It’s just something from his past.