Davies, Bunbury pushing for NT notice

A week after the US men’s national team finished a pair of friendlies without scoring a single goal, two players chose the past weekend to make strong statements that they should still be considered candidates to help solve the American striker drought.

Charlie Davies and Teal Bunbury have each worn the US jersey before, but both were left off the past summer’s Gold Cup squad. After each endured disappointing summers, the tandem combined for five goals this past weekend and are poised to help lead their teams to playoff berths, accomplishments which just might lead to them back into the national team mix.

Both players have seen their stock fluctuate in 2011 as much as anything you’ll find on Wall Street. Davies came into the 2011 season an unknown quantity after having missed a year and a half of action due to the near-fatal car accident that almost took his life and threatened to end his career.

Joining DC United on loan from French club Sochaux, Davies got out of the gates quickly, establishing himself as one of the league’s leading scorers and flashing the speed and skill that had him destined for stardom before that tragic car accident in October of 2010.

The hot start wasn’t enough to convince then-US head coach Bob Bradley that the time was right for a national team return though, and Davies eventually found himself hitting a wall physically. His fast start made it easy to forget just how much time he had lost, how arduous his recovery was, and just how serious the injuries were.

When Davies was pulled in the 60th minute of DC United’s 1-1 draw vs. Chicago on Aug. 18 and subsequently left out of the squad for United’s 1-0 loss to Sporting KC, it became clear Davies needed time off. Both he and DC received a much-needed break, three weeks in fact, before returning to action this past weekend.

Davies looked like a rested player, zooming around the field and spearheading a counterattack driven by Chris Pontius and Dwayne DeRosario. He finished off a trio of perfect Pontius passes to snap a two-month goalless drought. It was the kind of performance a player can build on; the type of performance sure to catch the attention of a certain German coach.

For Bunbury, the 2011 MLS season has been a bittersweet one. His good looks and national team prospects made him the poster child for Sporting Kansas City’s new look and new stadium. You couldn’t find a local magazine stand that didn’t feature his smiling face on multiple covers. He even scored his first national team goal back in January to help add more expectations for his sophomore season.

Then came the elbow injury that delayed it, but he recovered and even scored an early-season brace to suggest he was ready to fulfill all those high hopes. At least that was the plan before he slowly lost his grip on a starting job and, at the same time he was somewhat surprisingly left off the US Gold Cup roster, Bunbury found himself on the Sporting KC bench.

The emergence of rookie KC striker C.J. Sapong helped push Bunbury to a reserve role that saw him go a stretch of 11 matches with just three starts. One of those starts ended after just 45 minutes. That stretch coincided with Sporting KC’s moving into Livestrong Sporting Park, and the subsequent hot streak that helped KC climb out of the Eastern Conference basement.

Bunbury could have stayed glued to the bench, but he eventually responded with a clutch equalizer against New England on July 30th, coming off the bench to score his first goal in more than three months (a stretch of 17 matches). He earned a start the next weekend and scored again, this time in a 2-0 win against Real Salt Lake that saw him go 90 minutes.

In the time since, Bunbury has regained his regular starting role and even drew a call-up by new US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, though he didn’t wind up playing. That didn’t take away from the fact that Klinsmann had taken notice of his return to form.

On Saturday, Bunbury showed the speed, power and finishing ability that put him on the national team radar in the first place, scoring two goals in a 3-0 victory over Houston that helped Sporting KC grab a share of the Eastern Conference lead.

Yes, it is just one weekend, and just one good game for both Davies and Bunbury, but the performances bode well for strong finishes to the regular season. Both strikers will play key roles in just how far KC and DC can go, and whether Sporting KC can actually finish first in the East, or if DC can snap its own three-year playoff drought.

If Davies and Bunbury can lead their teams to the playoffs and keep playing like they did this past weekend, they could be meeting in the playoffs with post-season glory on the line, as well as meeting in a future national team camp.