Charlie Davies rose like a shooting star. Introduced to the watching world at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup, the livewire young striker’s audacity and ambition paved the way to a first major international Final appearance for the Stars and Stripes. He returned home an integral part of Bob Bradley’s plans for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ and was set to embark on a new chapter in his club career with Sochaux in France’s Ligue 1.
But in the early morning hours of 13 October everything changed. A fatal car crash outside Washington DC left Davies clinging to life. With a steely, single-minded determination and a recovery from his “catastrophic injuries” that bordered on the miraculous, he is back pestering defenders in DC, scoring goals for fun with United and waiting patiently for a recall to the national team that he considers his “ultimate goal.”
FIFA.com: Not only are you back playing, but you’re currently top scorer in Major League Soccer with club side DC United [as of 14 May 2011]. There must be a lot of feelings?
Charlie Davies: It’s not easy coming back after a year and a half out. I’m getting time on the field; I’m getting better with every game. I just played three 90-minute matches in the space of nine days, so I’m feeling good about things. I’m match fit and improving.
Let’s back up to before your accident and comeback. Not many people had heard of Charlie Davies when USA coach Bob Bradley threw you in needing a big win against Egypt at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup. This turned out to be your big break. Were you aware of it at the time?
I was ready for that moment. I was working hard in training and scoring goals. I was ready for the chance and coach Bradley saw that. I knew I had to take advantage of the opportunity, to make the most of it. I had to do the things I’d always done: not hold back, run at defenders and get the other team’s defenders off balance.
Your bustling work, hard running and harrying of defenders turned out to be exactly what the team needed. You scored, allowed team-mates like Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey more time on the ball, and everything seemed to click.
I used my pace, chased defenders around, harassed them and tried to be as much of a handful as I could. This way I knew I could help relieve the pressure on my team. I could chase the ball down, hold it up. The other team would have to respect our pace and our danger. They couldn’t just keep the ball and dictate.
You beat Egypt 3-0, then went on to break Spain’s lengthy unbeaten run in the semi-finals and in the final against Brazil - a first major international final for the USA - you were 2-0 up at halftime...
The way things turned out in the end was a little bittersweet. It felt great to beat Spain and to reach a major final and go 2-0 against a team like Brazil. But that’s where the sweet ends. Frankly, in the locker-room up 2-0 at the half we were all a little bit shocked and I think we might have gotten a little content, a little complacent, like we had it in the bag. When we got back out there, all it took was one goal for Brazil to reignite and it all went wrong or us.
What were the lessons learned after losing that game 3-2?
When we get back in that position we won’t make the same mistakes again. It will help us as we move ahead. We’ll know how to kill off the game next time.
You returned to the States as a full-time starter, an unearthed gem, scoring a goal in Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium en route to qualifying for the FIFA World Cup in South Africa in 2010. Then it all went dark. Can you talk about the accident?
When I woke up, I didn’t know where I was. I thought I was in Honduras in a hostel. My first real feeling was panic. Once I realised what happened and what was going on, it was a matter of determination to get back on my feet, and to get back to playing. It’s really all I thought about.
What was your main motivator in overcoming injuries that were called “catastrophic” by medical professionals and included major head trauma, a broken femur and lacerated bladder?
The World Cup was the only thing on my mind, in South Africa [there were approximately eight months between the accident and the 2010 finals]. It drove me to work extremely hard, to power through my rehab. With that goal set I could deal with the pain and the darkness and the feelings of defeat. I had something to push toward. I knew it was going to be a tough road, but I’ve had difficult times before and dark times too. I knew there would be a lot of hard work and pain, but I knew what I had to do to get through it.
In the end, you fell short of your goal and failed to make the US team that reached the Round of 16 last year. You did, however, return to fitness, defy the odds and, after a loan move from Sochaux in France, you are back to scoring goals at a top, professional level in MLS. How does it feel?
Getting back out there was a feeling that’s hard to describe. You’ve worked so hard and there were so many people doubting you. It’s a great feeling to know that you’ve got what it takes to prove them wrong.
What comes next?
I want to get back to being one of the best strikers around. The work never stops. The relief of getting back on the field was huge, but it’s only the first step.
Would you say that you’re back to playing at the level you were before the accident?
If I’m not where I was before the accident, I’m pretty close to it. I still need to get better, it still takes games to get back in the swing of things. It’s a matter of learning good habits and sticking to them. I need to stay dangerous and keep giving the amount of effort I gave before.
You have not been called up to the US national team since your return, but the USA’s qualifying for Brazil 2014 and the CONCACAF Gold Cup both begin soon...
A chance to play with the national team is a special thing. It’s what I’m working toward right now. This is my ultimate goal.
How do you go about reaching it?
I just need to keep working hard for my club and progressing. If I do that, Coach Bradley will see how much I want it and then I can get back on the field and help the team out. All I can do is help DC United and do my best.
Current DC United coach Ben Olsen took a real chance when he signed you on loan, as no one really knew if you would be the same player you were before the accident. The two of you played together, once when the US was invited to the Copa America in 2007. How is it to play for him?
He’s done a great job with me. He didn’t rush me into matches. He didn’t throw me out for 90 minutes when I was telling him I was fine and ready. He didn’t give into that. He had my best interest at heart and took it slow and steady with me. He knows what I can bring to the table. He tells me to stay on course, to never get complacent and pushes me at every training session. He’s getting the most out of me. This is the perfect place for me and I know I have a guy in my corner in the coach.
This DC United side is young and bit inexperienced, but you seemed to have found your way. How far can the team go? What are the goals?
As a team, our goal is to reach the play-offs. Once you’re there in the play-offs, anything can happen. We have dangerous and talented players and we are a very good MLS side. It’s all up for grabs when you’re in the play-offs and that’s where we want to be.
Having played overseas in Sweden and France and with the national team, how has the atmosphere and quality of MLS struck you?
MLS has improved a lot. I wasn’t sure what to expect because from what I’d seen before it looked OK but it still seemed like it had a long way to go. But now, to be a part of it, I am shocked. The fans in DC’s Barra Brava are amazing, jumping up and down for the whole game. I’ve seen the kind of atmosphere here in the US stadiums that you associate with the big teams overseas. It’s a great feeling to know this is happening in America. The league has come a long way and it’s a great place for me to be.