AMSTERDAM – Having suffered the very public letdown of missing out on World Cup 2010 after an intense and prolonged comeback effort, Sochaux forward Charlie Davies could hardly be faulted for losing a little vroom in his recovery drive.
That's a tough blow, to say the least. Especially considering all the inevitable "If I'd only... " thoughts that run through a mind. It turns out, however, that Davies has saved everyone the trouble of considering fault.
We all know the story. Late for US team curfew, Davies suffered multiple serious injuries in a late-night car accident, requiring multiple critical surgeries. When able, he hit the comeback trail hard and never let up, insisting the whole way that he intended to make the US World Cup squad.
Of course, he didn't quite make it. Coach Bob Bradley was told by Sochaux that the tourney had come too soon, and that was that.
Though at first angry with Sochaux and disappointed, every bit of the eager, aggressive attitude towards rehab and regaining mojo displayed by the US star leading up to World Cup roster day remains.
In fact, he's in full training and wants to be in uniform when Sochaux open the new Ligue 1 season with a visit from promoted Arles on Aug. 7.
"I've got a solid month to keep busting my butt to make sure I get back," Davies told MLSsoccer.com. "Of course, I can only go as fast as my body lets me."
It's the standard and reasonable message he's heard and sent himself ever since the fateful car wreck last October. But you can believe him when he says there's no feeling sorry for himself as he works back to full fitness.
"It's getting better," Davies said. "I just wish it hadn't taken so long. But I'm very happy and very blessed to have come so far after what I had gone through. Missing the World Cup put a lot of things in perspective.
"I just go with the flow, take it day by day. If I'm ready Aug. 7, I'll be ecstatic. If not, I'll just have to keep grinding it out. I know I'll get there because I see the progress I've made. I know, eventually, I'll get back to the player I was."
The most recent successful step back happened on Wednesday, when the 24-year-old New Hampshire native took to the field for an abbreviated training game against Swiss side Neuchâtel Xamax. It was a subdued showing, as one would expect, but he was back out there.
"I played 45 minutes," said Davies. "It was good, my first game in nine months. It's basically what I expected as far as my performance. Obviously, it's a huge step forward, but I still realize that I need to take a couple steps back to get back to the player I was before the accident."
He admits many of his field attributes are still diminished, and this commentary is not at all limited to physical skills that need sharpening. Even when he does bemoan a particular dullness, Davies finds a connection to the mental aspects of restoring himself as a player.
"It's a combination of things," explained Davies. "Right now I'm playing a lot of games with my head, a lot of mind games. There's a lot of frustration with that."
"Of course, there are my reaction times on the field. With more games and more training, my body will get used to that and I'll force it back into my mind,” he added. “Also, getting rid of the timidness, being able to bump into defenders and bang around like I used to."
"And that burst, being able to get back to top speed, which I'm really dying to get back to."
Finally, the big issue of his recovery. Can he regain pace? And not just pace -- pace with quickness, agility, touch and that quintessential Charlie Davies jump.
He talks as if he has no reason to believe that he can't recover his wheels and it's reassuring. Davies wasn't even that surprised by the near-miraculous speed of his progress before the World Cup letdown, probably because he's been so laser-focused on the finish line all along.
"I've always considered myself a fast healer," he said. "But from the injuries I had, which was basically my whole body, and how severe they were, I didn't really put it into perspective how much needed to be done for me to get back to where I was."
"I've worked so hard. There's been times when I've said, 'Wow, I've come so far,’” he said. “I've had different milestones, like being able to sprint for the first time. Even though it was not 100 percent, it was good to be able to sprint again. "
"I was like, 'Oh, this great!' But, for me, I'm always the kind of guy who wants more," he said. "I'm hard on myself because I want to be where I was before the accident right away, like right now. So that's always difficult mentally. It's a tough time for me."
Luckily, Davies has a vibrant human sea of support on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. It is what sees him through the rough patches.
"I've just had a tremendous amount of support from everywhere – my family, my girlfriend, my close friends, my teammates on both teams, the fans," he said. "Everybody's always giving me positive feedback and it makes a world of difference."
Support from back home is always a boost and Davies has plenty, but he genuinely seems every bit as touched by the Sochaux outpouring.
"It's made it so much easier being here with teammates that are really genuinely for me, and supporting me and helping me in every way they can to get back on the field, get back in the groove of things," he said.
"The fans here have been very great. They're always asking me if I'm OK, if I need anything, telling me I'm doing great and making great progress, telling me to keep going."
And what of the missed World Cup? Was he so upset that it was tough to watch the US play in South Africa, tough to feel part of the team?
Not quite. For Davies, missing out became just another reason to appreciate the people close to him.
"I was really excited for the team," he said. "I was in contact with most of my teammates. They actually called me from the locker room after they beat Algeria. That was amazing to talk to the guys after they'd won a huge game, to talk to the group."
"These things make a world of difference and I realize how lucky I am to have great friends like that," he added. "It just makes me want to get back that much sooner."