Hamstring slows Davies' comeback from accident
A week ago, when Charlie Davies was leading MLS with six goals, it would have been easy to gloss over the details and check him off the list. Yep, he's back. The player who suffered those horrific injuries in an automobile accident 19 months ago was pretty much his old self again.
Of course, it's not that simple, and what happened over the weekend was a timely reminder that he still has a ways to go. Davies left the first half of D.C. United's game against the Colorado Rapids on Saturday with a strained hamstring.
And it happened in front of U.S. national coach Bob Bradley, who was at the game to scout players as he considers his roster for next month's CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament.
''It was a bummer to have to come out,'' Davies said, ''but I did the smart thing and came out before I made it worse.''
Davies will miss this weekend's friendly against Dutch club Ajax and hopes to return for United's next MLS game on May 29, but the injury all but ended any chance he had of making his national team return at the monthlong Gold Cup.
For now, he'll have to settle for an uplifting consolation prize - the fact that he's playing at all, that he's has indeed been scoring goals, that he has regained his confidence, that he managed to play 90 minutes in three consecutive games. It was that grueling stretch, he speculates, that might have led to his hamstring setback.
''I played three full games in nine days,'' Davies said. ''That would be pretty tiresome for any player. After we had a tough training session on Tuesday, I decided to lift, and I might've fatigued my muscles even more.''
Davies' story is now well-documented. He was out past curfew in the Washington, D.C., area before the U.S. team's World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica in October 2009 when he was in a one-car crash that killed another passenger and left Davies with a ruptured bladder, bleeding on the brain, a broken and dislocated left elbow, broken bones in his right leg and a broken nose, forehead and eye socket. The driver pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and drunken driving and was recently sentenced to two years in prison.
Thanks to the power of the Internet, fans organized a tribute to Davies at RFK Stadium by holding up white signs with his jersey No. 9 during the ninth minute at the Costa Rica game. The photo is featured on Davies' Twitter page, but he wasn't aware it happened until two months after the accident, during the early stages of his arduous rehab.
His first reaction: ''Cry.''
''Just tears,'' Davies said. ''I still get goose bumps every time I see that game. It's a pretty eerie feeling.''
When healthy again, Davies went back to his French club, Sochaux, but his only playing time came in exhibitions and with the reserve team.
''It was a depressing environment, the situation I was in,'' Davies said. ''The management of the club, they didn't want me to succeed. They told me, they didn't basically want me to get back so they could get money for me from insurance. When you hear that, it's almost surreal, because after everything I've been though, you would do that to me?''
MLS was the solution. United agreed to take Davies on loan from the French club, with the option to keep him as a permanent transfer at the end of this year.
Davies overcame his self-doubts during training camp and worked his way into the lineup, starting six of United's first 10 games. He also moved to the top of the league in goals scored, although three of his six came on penalty kicks. He's now second to Landon Donovan, who has seven.
But there are subtle things that Davies still needs to work on, things that would seem obvious for anyone who has had his body banged and bruised in horrific way.
''Taking defenders on more often,'' he said, ''being confident running at defenders one-on-one. And, I think, just being more physical.''
Davies readily speaks about the accident when asked, citing the inspirational nature of his story. He said he was particularly moved when a mother and son approached him before a game at Houston; the son was rehabilitating severe leg and chest injuries and considered Davies his hero.
''I was amazed at how my story and my experiences could help this kid,'' Davies said.
Davies also has his finance, Nina, who pushed him around in his wheelchair and motivated him through the ups and downs of rehab. Their wedding date has been set for June 9, 2012.
If that sounds like advance planning, Davies also has another important date in mind two years later. He is determined to be on the U.S. team at the 2014 World Cup, having missed the 2010 tournament because of his accident.
''I'm still a work in progress,'' Davies said, ''because I'm still not the player I want to be.''
Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP