USA's Charlie on the spot
Young Charlie Davies arrived in South Africa for the FIFA Confederations Cup hoping for experience and, perhaps, a little playing time off the bench to add to his handful of caps. What he got, however, was a sped-up introduction to international football at the highest level. He came through his baptism of fire unscathed and as one of the USA's top performers in a glory run to a first-ever global final.
The Americans' slow start, a heavy loss to Italy and a mauling by Brazil, forced coach Bob Bradley to reach deep into his bag of tricks. In need of a high-scoring win against Egypt in Rustenburg, the boss turned, reluctantly, to 23-year-old Davies. The Sweden-based frontrunner's skill set became obvious at once: speed, courage, combativeness and a desperate desire for goals. "He brings energy to a game," Bradley told FIFA.com. "He never gives up on a lost cause."
Pushed into football early by his Gambian father, Davies' natural ability was apparent from the offing. However, his time in the US youth set-up was a disappointment and after three years of University football in Boston, he headed for Sweden's top flight, landing at Hammarby after a failed trial in Amsterdam with Ajax. Overcoming a wobbly start to professional life, the young man settled and has scored 21 goals in two seasons.
Short, powerful and with a low centre of gravity, he caused near-chaos in the Egyptian backline in his first start, scoring a scrappy opener which left goalkeeper Essam El Hadary requiring five stitches in his head. The US's shock 3-0 victory combined with Italy's 3-0 loss to Brazil, sending the Stars and Stripes through to a semi-final date with Spain, who hadn't lost since 2006 and were then the world's top ranked team.
Bradley rewarded Davies with a second start, and he brought the same passion and power to bear on proceedings. His brash overhead kick inside five minutes signalled his intentions, and had Real Madrid icon Iker Casillas scrambling. Although he didn't score, the compact forward kept Spain's defence off balance, helping the Americans pick up their most famous win since a 1950 defeat of England in Belo Horizonte.
Davies, who played only 13 minutes for the US Olympic team last year in Beijing, was again on the field at the opening whistle in the USA's historic final rematch against Brazil in Johannesburg. He marked the occasion by setting up a blazing counter-attack for Landon Donovan to push home in the 27th minute. The goal made the score, amazingly, 2-0 for the US at the interval.
In the end it didn't last. The American dream was overturned by an irresistible Brazilian surge in the second half. Davies, one of the true revelations of the competition, saw the whole experience as a positive. "We can be very proud of finishing second in South Africa," Davies told FIFA.com, noting that folks back home in the notoriously non-football nation stood up to take notice. "We showed the world our potential, and we showed our fans what we're capable of."
One of only four members of the Confederations Cup team to figure in the squad for the CONCACAF Gold Cup currently underway, Davies had only a few days between his marathon flight back from South Africa and the start of the biannual regional showpiece. The jet-lag was hardly in evidence, though, as he slotted home the last goal in a 4-0 rout of Grenada in Seattle.
Now with 11 caps and three goals for the national team, Davies - a virtual unknown a month ago - is looking to muscle his way into the reckoning for next summer's FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa. It's an opportunity the ambitious young man is keen to grab with both hands. "The experience at the Confederations Cup has made me grow fast as a player," he concluded, a day before a second Gold Cup test against Honduras. "Now we look forward to 2010, and if we reach our potential again, we'll be a very dangerous team!"