Now that it's official, the first instinct is to immediately project a goal total for Charlie Davies as the chief marker of whether his acquisition will benefit D.C. United. But Davies is not your typical forward and the typical measure of success does not apply here.
After all, Davies has not scored a goal in a competitive first-division match in well over a year, and the jury is still out on how effective he can be after his lengthy recovery — preseason heroics notwithstanding. It would be unfair on the player to simply attach a goal marker to his first-ever MLS season.
But there is an aura about Davies that was never damaged like his body was in that tragic accident he survived in 2009. In fact, the aura and fascination with Davies has increased since that fateful October morning.
If we’re honest, the last DC player to generate this kind of buzz throughout the fan base and create general interest across the American soccer community was Freddy Adu.
Davies is United’s next Adu – the player who captures national headlines and whose story will be told countless times between March and October. But there is also the added bonus of the emotional bond that already exists between the D.C. United supporters and Davies.
It was the RFK Stadium faithful that represented the sentiment of the entire US national team fan base in that final World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica – the first public expression of how the Davies accident shook and shocked American soccer.
Those banners continued to show up in the RFK stands following that October 2009 match. The Davies story was never forgotten in the city. And with all due respect to the Sochaux reserve squad, it is very fitting that Davies’ true return to top-flight soccer comes at RFK Stadium on March 19.
His presence will awaken a fan base that was numbed by 2010's last-place finish. And expect that interest to manifest itself in larger crowds at RFK and general overall interest surrounding the club.
United should be able to leverage this interest in several other ways, hopefully providing a boost on the business side of things. And if the Davies experiment works on the field, United will have captured the proverbial lightning in a bottle.
Their recent attempts at identifying a transcendent talent included the signing of oft-injured Argentine Designated Player Marcelo Gallardo, who flamed out after a year. High-scoring Brazilian Luciano Emilio never captured the imagination of supporters even with his goal-scoring title. Teenage phenom Andy Najar and veterans like Santino Quaranta and Clyde Simms are favorites, but none are revered in the same way Davies is.
And so without ever playing a match for D.C. United, Davies' debut on March 19 will boast a buildup that will compare with that first Freddy Adu game back in 2004. It’s likely few outside DC had “United vs. Columbus Crew” on their opening weekend list of must-see games. Now it’s arguably at the top.
And very much like Adu, the gauge of success with Davies will not only be measured in goals but whether the overall interest around D.C. United increases and the profile of the club grows in other quantifiable ways: tickets, merchandise, ratings, Web traffic and sponsorships.
If the goals actually were to come for Davies – and dare we say a potential US national team return – the frenzy would only grow.
The way things are shaping up, the Davies signing should turn out to be one of those that pays for itself. And if it doesn’t, the club has a built-in out clause with the expiration of the loan later this year.
But it’s still early days. Keep in mind that the forward’s preseason goals have come against U-20 squads from Canada and Trinidad & Tobago.
However, as we sit here in February, this can only be judged as a shrewd move. For long-time MLS fans, it feels like a return to the days when D.C. United was at the top of the table and the darlings of US soccer media.
Black-and-Red, welcome back to the national spotlight.