Reflections from a reporter born in 1987

Humbled Davies looks to launch career comeback with United

February 16, 2011 - 09:07 PM
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D.C. United President Kevin Payne, striekr Charlie Davies, coach Ben Olsen, and general manager Dave Kasper at Wednesday's unveiling. (Photo: TBD Staff)

Almost exactly 16 months to the day after he was supposed to lead the line for the United States men's national team in a World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica, Charlie Davies finally arrived at RFK Stadium. This time he wasn't wearing the number 9 shirt of the red, white, and blue, but rather the number 9 shirt of the black and red.

The coincidences in this story are unavoidable, and the big one is already well known. In the early morning hours of October 13, 2009, Davies was the passenger in an SUV driving south on the George Washington Parkway. The driver, Maria Alejandra Espinoza, lost control of the car, which crashed into a metal guardrail. 

"The car was pretty much split in half," Park Police spokesman Sgt. David Schlosser told the Washington Post at the time.

"I remember getting in the car, putting my seatbelt on, and then waking up in the hospital," Davies, 24, said Wednesday following an introductory press conference after signing a one-year loan deal with D.C. United that gives the club an option to purchase his contract from his previous club, Sochaux in France. "Waking up in the hospital and thinking I'm in a hostel in Honduras was definitely not too exciting. I didn't know how I got there. I thought I was in Honduras. The only thing I could do was panic. I started taking the staples out of my stomach, actually, until the nurse ran over and stopped me."

Davies suffered a lacerated bladder, fractured right tibia and femur, a fractured elbow, facial injuries and bleeding on the brain. His fellow passenger, Ashley Roberta, was killed.

And here's where a lesser-known coincidence comes into play: Espinoza, who has pleaded guilty to felony charges of involuntary manslaughter and maiming while driving intoxicated, is tentatively scheduled to be sentenced on March 18, the day before United's MLS opener at RFK against the Columbus Crew.

"Every day I wake up," Davies said. "I'm reminded of the accident in the scars I have on my body." The most visible of those scars runs across the top of his head from ear to ear. He got that one after surgeons quite literally peeled the skin of his face off down to his chin to repair his multiple facial fractures.

But the crash's toll wasn't just physical for Davies. It also cost him a certain place in the U.S. squad at last summer's World Cup, and it is not unreasonable to wonder what might have been had a fully healthy Davies come along to South Africa. True, he had scored just 4 goals in 17 senior international appearances, but two of those goals had come in World Cup qualifiers, including this beauty against Mexico at Estadio Azteca. Of the other two goals, one had been scored in the 2009 Confederations Cup, while the other had been scored in the 2009 Gold Cup, neither of which are insignificant competitions.

The accident cost him a regular place at Sochaux as well. The grind of a top-class European soccer league is a merciless one and despite the fact that Davies was able to return to training with Sochaux last spring as part of a last-ditch effort to make the World Cup squad, life largely went on without Charlie. Davies spent much of his time with Sochaux's reserves, and was only named to the first team again on December 19, when he failed to get off the bench in a 1-1 draw against Bordeaux.

"I was told [by Sochaux management prior to agreeing to the loan move], 'Look, we have two strikers who have eight goals [Modibo Maiga and Brown Ideye]. It would probably be best if you went on loan, because you need games,'" Davies said. 

"I think I came back too early as far as training in France, and I think I developed a lot of bad habits that for the past three or fourth months I've been breaking," Davies continued. "When you lose a ball, and you lose another ball, and you start hearing guys on your team starting going 'argggh' -- after that you're isolated from the game because no one wants to play you the ball."

And so Davies has come back to D.C., where, as in France, his place in the starting eleven is hardly a guarantee, to hear coach Ben Olsen tell it. "We're going to have four forwards who could potentially start," Olsen said. "This is still a competition."

Nonetheless, Davies showed enough during his weeklong trial period in Florida earlier this month to move Olsen, a former U.S. teammate of Davies, to say "he's on his way back to being the Charlie of old."

For the record, Davies doesn't have a complex about playing near the site of his accident. Indeed, just a couple of months after the crash, he was back riding along that same stretch of the George Washington Parkway, this time with fellow U.S. international Oguchi Onyewu, whose father was recovering from back surgery in the same hospital where Davies had been taken early that morning in October.

"As weird as it sounds," Davies said, "it was interesting for me to see all of it again from a different perspective, and just to be so thankful for my life. I felt relieved after driving by the site of the accident."

"Of course, it's the place where the accident happened," Davies had said earlier, "But I also hope that [D.C.] will be the place where I got back on my feet."

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