Sporting Kansas City fans nearly choked on their burnt ends and Boulevard beer when the news broke that their club had traded for the player they loved to hate, bringing in midfielder Brad Davis from the Houston Dynamo.
As they're discovering, the 34-year-old Davis is a laid-back (off the pitch, anyway), funny, thoughtful guy who's looking forward to the 2016 season with his new club and has already developed a rapport with center forward Dom Dwyer in the early going this preseason.
There are a few things you might not know about him, though.
The Road Not Taken
Davis is an MLS lifer, joining the New York/New Jersey MetroStars in 2002 as the third overall pick in that year's MLS SuperDraft – but he very nearly made a jump to the Netherlands in his teens.
“At an early age – like 16 years old – I had a chance to go over and join the PSV Eindhoven academy,” Davis recalled. “But I'm a smalltown Midwestern boy, and my parents weren't having that. They weren't going to send their youngest across the pond to go play that far away from home.
“You always wonder what could have happened with that, but to be totally honest with you, I've been happy here.”
Part of the Growth Process
Davis entered the league a year after MLS's first two Florida clubs – the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny – succumbed to contraction, reducing the league to 10 teams. Now there are 20, with several expansion sides in the works and plenty of other cities clamoring to get in.
Heading into his 15th season, Davis reflected on that ascendency.
“It's been a crazy ride, and a fun ride,” he said. “It is something I'm proud of. There aren't a lot of guys that have had long careers here in MLS. It's just something that I really have believed in. I've had opportunities to go on trials with some smaller clubs, but this is something where – I didn't want to go to Europe just to say, 'Hey, I went to Europe.' The grass isn't always greener.”
Davis was born in the St. Louis suburb of St. Charles, Missouri, and grew up in a city where soccer is a way of life.
It's not yet an MLS city, though – but Davis remains hopeful that it will be someday, with USL side Saint Louis FC building a loyal following after earlier lower-division clubs failed to gain traction.
“I think there are really some opportunities there, especially with the [NFL's] Rams leaving, to make a splash in the soccer market,” he said. “It's definitely something that everybody says, 'St. Louis deserves it. They should have one.' I believe it's a city that can support it, but I also understand that it's a business and it needs to be done right. If we're going to do it, let's do it right the first time.”
Speaking of Saint Louis FC, the debut of Sporting-owned USL side Swope Park Rangers should make for a heated regional rivalry in that league – especially after Sporting and Saint Louis shattered several attendance records in last year's fourth-round US Open Cup match.
So, Brad … who ya like in that matchup?
Asked that question at Sporting's preseason media day, Davis just laughed.
“Ah, come on, man,” he said. “Ohhhh … I'd have to go Saint Louis. I'd have to go Saint Louis. That's still more in my blood right now. But obviously, if we play against them in Open Cup or something, that's going to be us, for sure.”
Davis is unabashed in his love for another St. Louis team, though – that being the NHL's Blues – and happy that his new club situation puts him closer to the action.
“Obviously, it depends on the season,” he said. “But I think it does make it a little more conducive to being able to get to some games. That's definitely something I'm looking forward to.”
Starting on the Game's Biggest Stage
Davis' solid club play for the Dynamo earned him a place in Jurgen Klinsmann's squad for the 2014 World Cup, including a start for the Yanks in their final group-stage match against eventual champions Germany in Brazil.
“When I stood there and sang the National Anthem, it all really kind of sunk in,” he said. “I told myself that I wanted to take a minute and just soak in the moment, let it really hit me and realize what I was doing and who I was doing this for – who you're representing and what you're representing.”
The Making of a Saint
Sporting winger Graham Zusi was a USMNT teammate of Davis at the World Cup and during the qualifying stages – and the two combined on arguably the most significant goal of the hexagonal round, Zusi's equalizing header off Davis' assist against Panama in the final qualifying match.
The goal in the Yanks' eventual victory knocked Panama out of the play-in round, giving Mexico that place instead, and “San Zusi” was born.
Davis doesn't feel unfairly left out of the south-of-the-border lovefest, though.
“The goalscorer usually gets the credit,” he said. “To be honest, at that point we're just out there trying to do our best, make a difference and make the team.”
Lefty? Righty? Yes
Davis has long been rated as having one of the best left-footed deliveries in MLS – but he's hardly left-side dominant in all things.
“I'm completely messed up,” he said. “I write right-handed. I eat left-handed. I throw left-handed. I play golf left-handed. I shoot right-handed. I'm confused as all get-out."
About that throwing: Is it always from the left side?
“It's really weird,” he said. “It comes down to touch. I throw a baseball left-handed, but if it's something close, like darts, I play right-handed.”
Get Outta Town
When Davis says “shoot,” he doesn't just mean basketball or darts. He's an avid outdoorsman who uses hunting and fishing trips to decompress.
“I like going out where the cell phone doesn't work and nobody really knows where I'm at,” he said. “That's where I have my free time to be, and just think, just relax a little bit. Without a doubt, that's my passion – outside my sport and the St. Louis Blues.”
Grounded in a Higher Calling
No matter where he is or what he's doing, Davis – who grew up in a Catholic household – says his faith provides needed balance for himself and his family.
“I just try to go through life treating people the way I want to be treated,” he said – something he acknowledges can be a struggle in the heat of competition.
“Unfortunately, we don't always stick to that plan,” he said with a wry laugh. “But it's something that I've really tried to stick with and ingrain into my kids as well. You're going to get treated with the respect that you give people – and for me, it's something to lean on in difficult times.
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.