Steve Davis
Wednesday May 12th, 2010

Reality finally had its day in this difficult Charlie Davies situation.

His omission from the U.S.' 30-man preliminary roster released Tuesday means he won't be part of the final 23-man selection or the 2010 World Cup.

But now the knives are out and the fangs are sharpened in some corners for coach Bob Bradley, the man who needed to make this painful choice.

It's just hard to understand why U.S. supporters want Bradley's blood on this one. Clearly, the coach would select any player who could realistically assist the cause. His reputation and possibly his job are on the line.

Everyone cheered for Davies as he worked valiantly to recover from the injuries suffered last October in that horrible car crash in northern Virginia. It certainly would have been an inspirational achievement.

Alas, it didn't happen. Davies is just 23 years old. He'll have another shot.

Meanwhile, the rest of us need to twist the wrench of hard reality a little harder. We need to untie some of the knots that seem to have formed around this prickly situation. And there are plenty.

First, this was always the longest of long shots. Almost all of the good news and any detailed information regarding his comeback came from Davies himself, mostly through his Twitter account. Otherwise, there was never any compelling evidence that Davies was on the fast track to recovery.

That's not a knock against him. If he's an optimist by nature, then good on him. Life is better with a bunch of positive attitudes around. But he would obviously need so much more than a sing-song attitude and the power of positive thinking to battle John Terry and England on June 12.

Davies made hope float with those Twitter messages -- like the one on April 26 announcing his return to full training with Sochaux -- and a couple of selected spring interviews. Again, no one can begrudge a dream, especially when it comes to soccer players and the quadrennial World Cup. Almost anyone can play soccer at some level. But only the tiniest percentage can play professionally, and only the smallest portion from that small pond can pull on the country colors for a World Cup.

We all understand that. But the natural selection of this process can be brutal. Bottom line: No one has a God-given right to grace a World Cup.

In his bid to heal from the multiple, serious injuries, getting to a place where he could perform everyday tasks was one thing. Reaching a point where he was strong enough to play soccer at the highest level was always going to be a bridge too far. Anyone who realistically assessed the situation understood that.

Everyone inside the tight circle of U.S. team staff knew the odds were always fierce. When Davies began floating the notion that he would be fit and up for the fight, team staff was hopeful right along with everyone else. But it was also realistic. So on Tuesday, the tough decision had to be made.

"Charlie has shown incredible heart and determination to reach this point in his recovery," Bradley said through U.S. Soccer. "We have followed his progress extensively during the past several months through physical examinations and personal observation by our staff, and he remained in consideration for this training camp until [Monday].

"FC Sochaux notified us that at this point Charlie has not been given medical clearance, and that they would not grant his full release to join the camp. Given that status and our own evaluation of his progress, we feel it is Charlie's best interest to continue his rehabilitation and focus on getting fully prepared to resume his professional and international career."

We're not talking about adequate fitness here. This is a brutally demanding tournament. Players will begin showing up Saturday for physicals and other procedural steps. Training begins Monday, and it's going to be a bear.

U.S. fitness coach Pierre Barrieu will attach sophisticated heart monitors to every athlete and begin pushing them hard, straining the limits of legs and lungs. This camp is arranged to get every person there into tip-top physical condition, to access the untapped stores of strength and stamina in each individual. That means each person must be starting from a certain point. Davies just isn't there.

That's not Bradley's fault.

We should also realistically assess Davies' value to the cause here, for his brave recovery efforts may have artificially inflated his true upside. The U.S. World Cup effort is hardly going over the cliff because Davies won't be involved. Truth is, he was rounding into a nice player, but anyone who thinks that he was the answer to a big puzzle needs to tap the brakes a bit.

First, Davies was only beginning to assert himself on the international level. He scored last summer in the Confederations Cup and then struck a few weeks later at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, which is no small accomplishment. But his overall body of work -- four international goals, two in qualifiers -- is insufficient to conclude unequivocally that he could plant his flag in South Africa this summer and make the world forget about Argentina's Leo Messi. Far from it.

He was having a good summer in the national team shirt one year ago, no doubt. And Davies did appear to be a good partner for Jozy Altidore. But we've seen these runs with U.S. strikers before. Eddie Johnson stood up in a few qualifiers, you might recall. Heck, even Conor Casey had one big night in qualifying, hitting twice in a huge win last October in Honduras. None of it is a warranty for continued success.

The fact is, when calculating the U.S. team's chances this summer, Davies' elimination from the equation changes little. With or without the young striker, the United States faces long odds of improving on its best finish in the modern era, a quarterfinal appearance in 2002.

If Bradley's men can indeed summon something special and overachieve in South Africa, it will be because Tim Howard, Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey does something remarkable, while the other players ably fulfill their roles. And that is certainly possible. The point is, from the American standpoint, this World Cup was always going to be about one of those three difference makers. It still is.

Davies' presence would increase the U.S. chances only slightly. To think otherwise is just to indulge fantasy.

As for the notion that Bradley should bring the striker to camp just to serve as some inspirational ornament, well, that's not the right thing to do. The danger in that would be in making this important training camp all about Davies. And everyone can surely agree that more is at stake here than one man's feelings, as much as we might admire the guy.

Finally, this must be said: The other choice to be considered here wasn't Bradley's. Davies made a choice last October when he busted curfew, when he slid inside into an automobile late at night with someone who should not have been on the road. He's paying a terribly high price for that choice, but it was his choice to make, after all.

Meanwhile, the other big surprise Tuesday might have been Conor Casey's omission from the 30-man pool. Then again, those who have seen Casey under-deliver in MLS this year can't be too surprised. He just hasn't performed at a high level for the Colorado Rapids, and is still looking for his first non-penalty kick strike.

"He [Bradley] called and told me that I wasn't going to be part of the squad," Casey said through the Colorado Rapids. "It was a short conversation; obviously I'm disappointed."

Yeah, there's a lot of that going around right now.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.