CHESTER, Pa. – Alejandro Bedoya was sitting in a restaurant in Paris, eating steak frite, when his phone buzzed.
Charlie Davies wanted to FaceTime.
On its own, this was not an unusual occurrence. Before each became well-known staples of the American soccer community, Bedoya and Davies were best friends, bonding over a shared alma mater, similar overseas odysseys, outgoing personalities, and video games. FaceTime or Skype was usually their preferred method of communication — especially recently, so they could see each other’s young children.
So when Bedoya saw Davies’ name pop up on his phone in early August, he figured his buddy simply wanted an update on his impending move from France’s FC Nantes to the Philadelphia Union. But after answering the call, he could immediately tell something else was up.
“I’ve got something for you,” Davies said, holding his twin boys, Dakota and Rhys, and wearing a mischievous grin.
Bedoya, who had been buried in the complicated proceedings to finalize his own MLS move, racked his brain.
“I might be traded,” Davies said.
“And the team might be Philly.”
Bedoya couldn’t believe it. One of the big reasons he wanted to play in MLS was so his one-year-old son Santino could be closer to family. Now, in the space of an unpredictable and frenetic final few hours of the MLS summer transfer window, he was also on the verge of being teammates with a friend he always considered family — the guy he calls “Uncle Charlie” whenever Santino pokes his little head into their FaceTime calls.
“I stopped eating and was like, ‘This is unbelievable,” Bedoya recalls. “I was like, ‘Whatever needs to get done, we need to get this over the line.’ And as soon as I got off FaceTime with him, I called my agent and said, ‘Get this over the line. It will be unbelievable.’”
On Aug. 3, the Union sent a kitty of allocation money, a 2017 first-round SuperDraft pick and the discovery rights to an unnamed player to Chicago in order to swap spots in the Allocation Ranking Order, using the newly-acquired top spot to sign Bedoya. A day later, Philly finalized a trade with the New England Revolution to bring Davies on board.
From the outside looking in, the timing of the move seemed peculiar, perhaps even harsh. Less than a week earlier, Davies revealed he’d missed the previous three months of the MLS season while battling a rare form of cancer, which is now in remission. He made his grand return to the Revs on July 31, playing 15 minutes vs. Orlando City SC. To pick up and leave town just four days later? It was a lot to ask of Davies and his young family, but the ever-effervescent 30-year-old embraced the move, in large part because of the presence of Bedoya and two other longtime friends on the Union: Maurice Edu and Chris Pontius.
“For me, it’s the first time in my career that I have the opportunity to play with my best friend and two very close friends,” Davies says. “… It’s a rare opportunity and something you have to take with both hands.”
Even better: the opportunity arrived following a decade in which Bedoya and Davies trailed in each other’s path, just missing the chance to play on the same team or in the same country through bad timing, bad luck or both.
“It’s a special time for us to be playing together,” Davies says, “and to have the same goal of winning a championship here.”
ED KELLY HAS SPENT NEARLY 30 YEARS running the Boston College men’s soccer program, winning more than 300 games along the way. He’s accomplished so much in his career that he says he doesn’t “lose any sleep” dwelling on regrets on missed opportunities. But every now and then, Kelly lets his mind wander: What would it have been like to coach Bedoya and Davies at the same time on the same team?
“It would have been a sight to see, wouldn’t it?” Kelly says.
It almost happened. Davies starred for Boston College from 2004 to 2006, just before Bedoya transferred to B.C. from Farleigh Dickinson ahead of the 2007 season. The two had played against each other before, and Davies knew that the ’07 Eagles would be loaded with the high-profile transfer joining a talented group of returners. But after being named the 2006 ACC Offensive Player of the Year, Davies decided to forgo his senior season and turn pro, signing a contract with Swedish club Hammarby.
“[Kelly] was really high on Alejandro and he really wanted me to stay one more year to play with him,” Davies recalls. “But when the time is right, the time is right.”
Even without Davies, the 2007 Boston College team was a dominant one, going 15-5-1 and winning ACC regular-season and conference titles, before being upset by UMass in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
How good would the Eagles have been if Davies stayed?
“That’s an automatic national championship,” Davies laughs. “100 percent.”
“That year, my junior year, was my first year at B.C. and we were the number one team in the country,” adds Bedoya, who followed in Davies’ footsteps as the 2007 ACC Offensive Player of the Year. “And I have no doubts that with Charlie, we could have won a national championship.”
“And then I could have rubbed it in Mo Edu’s face and Chris Pontius’ face,” Davies chips in, “because they both love to flaunt how they have a college championship.”
Although Bedoya and Davies never raised a College Cup like their pals — Edu won with Maryland in 2005 and Pontius the next year with UC Santa Barbara — they began to form the foundation of a powerful friendship.
They met for the first time in 2007 when Davies returned to B.C. during a week off from Hammarby. Bedoya had taken over his room in the house where some soccer players lived, and the two “clicked right away,” according to Davies.
“It was one of those things where we already had mutual respect for each other,” Bedoya says. “I knew about his talent. He knew about me from Ed Kelly talking to him. Our personalities are the type that get along. We’re both very open and outgoing.”
Their gregarious personalities made an impression on their teammates and coaches — even a decade later. “Of course they never got in trouble, those two angels,” Kelly laughs, describing both as “jokesters” and recounting one story in which Bedoya continually took clothes out of a teammate’s locker when he showered.
“The B.C. connection started it and then it just became following each other’s careers,” Kelly adds. “They’re both super guys. These are easy guys to be friends with. Charlie’s kind of a popular guy. And Ale looks like he’s a quiet guy now, but Ale was the big joker in the locker room when Charlie left.”
Both Bedoya and Davies were called into the same US national team camp in 2007 in preparation for the Olympics the following summer. And then, after Bedoya’s final season at B.C. in 2008, Davies showed him around his new home in Sweden — one of the biggest factors in Bedoya signing with Swedish club Örebro SK out of college.
“Once he took me out in Stockholm, I was like, ‘All right, I need to come over here,” Bedoya says while Davies, sitting next to him after a recent Union training session, laughs. “I was convinced right then and there this is the right move.”
Bedoya and Davies ended up carving similar paths in Europe, with Bedoya embarking on two stints in Sweden, while also playing for Rangers in Scotland and, most recently, FC Nantes in France. Davies also plied his trade in Sweden and France (with Sochaux), but in both cases left just as Bedoya was arriving.
Playing in different countries, though, did little to slow down their growing friendship. As both Americans tried to make it in the cutthroat, often lonely, world of European soccer, they spent their nights, often until 4 or 5 am, playing a different kind of game: Call of Duty.
“You never felt lonely with Call of Duty,” says Davies, who, by most accounts, was the worst of anyone who played in their group, which included Edu, Pontius and other young Americans like Jozy Altidore. “I would rub it in for days when I would get a kill in.”
“Charlie was leaps and bounds behind all of us,” Edu says. “Same goes for FIFA. He’s terrible at FIFA. He talks a good game but when it comes to actually playing, he’s the worst.”
Of course, in the end, the results of the game mattered little. For Davies and Bedoya, it was an escape, an outlet, a way to laugh every day with friends in similar situations but different countries. And they didn’t always need video games to talk, often just calling to see how the other was doing, especially in the most difficult moments.
“It’s not easy to make it overseas,” Kelly says. “They were a big resource for each other.”
“They became friends,” he adds, “and then they became super friends when Charlie had the accident.”
BY NOW, EVERYONE FAMILIAR WITH AMERICAN SOCCER knows about the accident.
They know that Davies played a starring role to help the US national team advance to the 2009 Confederations Cup final. They know about the goal later that summer at Estadio Azteca and how the talented young, fun-loving, stanky-leg-dancing striker seemed like a surefire bet to make the 2010 World Cup squad.
And they know how it all came crashing down on Oct. 13, 2009 – seven years ago to the day – when Davies, in Washington D.C. with the US national team ahead of a World Cup qualifying match against Costa Rica, got into the back seat of a 2004 Infiniti FX35 with two women he didn’t know well, one of whom was drunk and crashed the car into a guardrail on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, an accident that killed the other passenger and nearly ended Davies’ life.
Davies survived, but not without suffering serious injuries that put his soccer career in jeopardy and effectively ended his USMNT tenure. More than 5,000 miles away, his best friend still vividly remembers hearing about the crash — and the frantic long-distance calls, tears and prayers that followed.
“With the time difference, I had just gotten out of training in Sweden,” Bedoya says. “I looked at my phone, had messages and heard what happened to Charlie. I was just like, ‘Wow, this is crazy.’ It was very tough on everybody. You fear for the worst, but you try to stay positive.”
Davies wouldn’t have it any other way. Those that know him best say the 30-year-old striker is the most upbeat person they’ve ever met, the kind of guy who refuses to say he’s unlucky despite dealing with an inordinate amount of hardship.
But on the inside, during the months of grueling rehab that followed the car accident, Davies needed more than just his own indomitable spirit and family to get by. He needed his friends. He needed Bedoya.
“Little things helped me so much to get through those days,” Davies says. “I’m forever grateful and appreciative.”
Not making the 2010 World Cup squad certainly hurt. While Landon Donovan captivated the country with a stoppage-time goal vs. Algeria to send the US through to the knockout stage, Davies watched with Bedoya, who came from Sweden to France to celebrate his friend’s 24th birthday. Some of Davies’ pain was further soothed when teammates from the US national team called him from the exuberant locker room.
And four years later, when Bedoya started in the next World Cup, his biggest fan was the very player who had his own World Cup dream taken from him.
“Obviously I didn’t get a chance to play in the World Cup but he did,” Davies says. “And I couldn’t be more excited for him. I was his biggest supporter watching him out there. I think that shows the work ethic he has to see how far he’s come from Boston College to starting in a World Cup game against Cristiano Ronaldo. This is picture perfect. This is what dreams are made of. And he was able to achieve his.”
Shortly after the US made it to the knockout stage of the 2014 World Cup, Bedoya and Davies saw another one of their dreams come true. Bedoya’s son was born in March of last year. Davies’ twins came into the world a year later.
The good news wasn’t without a caveat. Davies and his wife dealt with a dizzying amount of worry as Dakota and Rhys arrived three months premature. During the twins’ three-month hospital stay, doctors discovered a cancerous tumor in Davies’ groin during a routine MRI for a strained muscle.
Soon after, Davies sent Bedoya a text that simply read: “Can we talk?”
“He told me, ‘Dude, my groin injury is not actually a groin injury. It’s actually something else,’” Bedoya recalls. “My jaw just dropped. It’s always something. I was like, ‘Jeez, when is this gonna end?’ I’m amazed by how many things someone can go through. I’m not amazed at how he got through it. Throughout his whole life, he’s always fought. He’s always been challenged and always got through anything.
“And he always knows I have his back and I’m always supporting him.”
Now, they both hope their kids will have each other’s backs too. And although their days are currently filled with infant and toddler milestones such as rolling over (Rhys and Dakota) and running around and kicking a soccer ball (Santino), the two proud papas like to imagine their children growing into best friends, just like them.
Davies: “They’ll play on the same teams.”
Bedoya: “They’ll be playing video games together like we were playing video games together.”
Davies: “Family vacations.”
Bedoya: “We’ve been talking about getting a sweet villa together with both of our families running around.”
It goes on like this for a while, their eyes lighting up over their shared bond of fatherhood and the endless possibilities that lie in front of them — a future made even more enticing because of all of those rocky moments in the past.
“I joked with them they can all grow up Philly kids,” says Union head coach Jim Curtin, who has three children of his own and stresses the importance of family. “You have them and you cherish them forever. But to do it with your close friend and watch them grow up together will be special. And we want that to be in Philadelphia for a long time.”
CURTIN HAS NEVER TRIED TO HIDE THE FACT that he chased Bedoya for the better part of a year and that the US national team stalwart, signed to a three-and-a-half-year Designated Player contract, is a huge part of the Union’s foundation.
Davies, at least for now, has a less prominent role on the team, coming off the bench to provide a scoring punch as well as veteran leadership late in the regular season and, they hope, into the playoffs.
But even if the team’s two summer acquisitions were of different magnitudes and came together in different ways, it was the opportunity to acquire both over the course of 48 hours that made the moves more enticing for Curtin, who’s always valued what off-the-field bonds bring to a squad.
“For sure, [their friendship] did play in,” the Union manager admits. “Both had incredible careers and incredible journeys that led them here. It’s unique to have them here together. You can tell when you come into training each day, they have a smile on their face — and everyone plays better when they’re smiling.”
Bedoya and Davies aren’t the only ones smiling. Edu and Pontius, who’ve known them both for many years, are enjoying the new additions to the locker room too — and, of course, the friendly banter that dates back to their days playing against each other in college and in Call of Duty.
What kind of trash talk can you expect to hear on the Union training field these days?
“A good one that I love to use is, ‘Let him shoot from there,’” Davies laughs. “So if someone takes a shot and it’s off, it instantly goes straight to their psyche.”
Is that so, Mo?
“Whenever Charlie gets the ball, we’re screaming, ‘Let him shoot!’” Edu says. “We want him to take shots. It makes it fun, it makes it more competitive. The trash talk that goes in, it gives you more of a competitive edge. I think everyone kind of appreciates it. Before I was just talking trash to Chris but now we have a couple more guys to pick on.”
While thrilled to see two of his close friends join the Union, Edu has yet to play with them, having been sidelined the entire season with a stress fracture. But the Union captain made a series of rehab assignments with USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel FC in September and the Union hope he’ll finally return to MLS competition before the end of 2016.
“When you’re a kid and playing youth soccer, you joke about how cool it would be if we were on the same [pro] team,” says Edu, who’s known Davies since his early teenage years. “To actually have it be a reality is unbelievable. It’s a locker room we, as kids, would have picked.”
Even before Philly’s summer transfer window moves, Curtin noticed an improved locker room from previous years — one reason why the Union, currently in sixth place in the Eastern Conference after a recent lull in results, are in position to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2011. But with Bedoya and Davies now in the fold, and Edu set to return, the Union are thinking about a lot more than just getting into the playoffs.
“I think we had a really good locker room but I think with Charlie and Alejandro, it’s even better,” Curtin says. “When you go on the field together and you have a real friendship instead of a pro athlete friendship, there’s a big difference. That means you’ll do that extra running, that little extra fight for each other.
“It’s one of those things where you want to come to a work environment where you enjoy it, you can smile, you can laugh, you can joke, you can work hard on the field but then you can go to a restaurant and have a beer and hang out together. I think that’s important. The best teams I ever played on were close-knit like that.”
Meshing laughter with winning is certainly the ultimate goal for Bedoya and Davies, both of whom have a lot to prove on the soccer field — Bedoya to all the critics that thought he should have stayed in Europe, Davies to the cloud of bad luck that’s hovered over him.
“For me, I never think what could have been or why me or anything like that,” Davies says. “It’s always the present and what I can do now or what I can do later.”
And what he and Bedoya can do now — after separate journeys that saw them just miss out on the chance to to play together in college, in Europe and with the US national team — is win MLS Cup.
“I can only imagine the feeling we’d have raising the Cup together,” Davies says. “I mean, considering my life and how my career has been and all the ups and downs and everything, I don’t even think a book could do that story justice. It would mean everything for us to bring an MLS Cup here — and to do it together as our friendship just continues to get stronger.”
“We’re at a stage of our lives where we’re growing as parents, as human beings and also as soccer players,” Bedoya adds. “With our experience and everything we’ve been through and everything he’s been through, to finally end up playing together in Philly and finally actually playing for the same dream of pushing a team to making a run not just to the playoffs but to the MLS final …
For just a second, Bedoya’s voice trails off. Davies looks over at his friend then finishes the thought.
“It will be pretty emotional if we get there.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at email@example.com.
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