Wednesday February 2nd, 2011

On Oct. 13, 2009, the life and career of U.S. striker Charlie Davies changed in the amount of time it took for the SUV he was riding in to crash on the George Washington Parkway near the nation's capital. Now it appears that Davies' recovery may take him back to Washington, D.C., this season.

Davies was set to join D.C. United in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Wednesday for a one-week evaluation period, a story first reported by The Washington Post on Tuesday. If United is satisfied with Davies on the field and off (i.e., a full medical evaluation), then the club says it will use its position at the top of the MLS allocation ranking to acquire Davies on a 12-month loan from the French club Sochaux.

My first reaction (without knowing the financials, which United has already agreed to) is that this could potentially be a way for the 24-year-old Davies to restart his promising career in fan-friendly surroundings while providing D.C. United with the reliable finisher that it was lacking in a historically low-scoring 2010 season.

Right now, of course, the emphasis has to be on the word potentially. The auto accident killed another passenger, Ashley Roberta, and Davies' injuries were extensive: a lacerated bladder and fractures of his right femur and tibia, left elbow and several bones in his face. The injuries threatened to end his career. By several accounts, Davies has worked hard to rehabilitate his body, and if he can have an impact for D.C. United it would be one of the great inspirational stories we've seen in American soccer. (In some ways you could say that his survival and recovery to this point already is.)

But from a soccer perspective, it's important to remember: Davies has not played in a first-team game since the accident nearly 17 months ago. He has competed for Sochaux's reserve team in the French fourth division, but questions remain over whether Davies still has the separation speed that he possessed before the accident. That's one thing that United will certainly be looking at during this week's evaluation period.

Before the accident, Davies was showing promise as a forward at the club and international level. At the 2009 Confederations Cup, he scored a scrappy goal that started the U.S.' stunning 3-0 win against Egypt and he connected with Landon Donovan on a terrific counterattack goal against Brazil in the final. Davies also scored against Mexico in the Azteca, and his club career was on the rise. Davies' U.S. performances and a 14-goal season in 2008 at Sweden's Hammarby helped lead to his transfer to Sochaux, where Davies scored twice as a substitute against defending French champion Bordeaux in August 2009.

Then came the accident -- and, after his hospitalization, a torrid rehabilitation in an attempt to be ready for the 2010 World Cup. In hindsight, the commotion over Davies' omission from last May's World Cup training camp roster seems overheated, not least because he has yet to play a first-team club game in the nine months since. Before Davies can even think about resuming his national-team career, he needs to show he can excel at the club level, and a loan to D.C. United could be the first step in that process.

It's also a chance for Davies to prove that he has started to grow up. Davies already paid a big price for breaking the U.S. team curfew on the night of the accident and getting into an SUV with a drunk driver. (The driver, María Espinoza, faces sentencing Feb. 18 after pleading guilty to felony charges of involuntary manslaughter and maiming while driving intoxicated.) But it didn't help when Davies was reported to have been caught driving 125 miles an hour by the French police last October, nearly a year after his horrific auto accident.

Davies and the teammate who was with him when he was caught speeding, Jacques Faty, later said Faty had been driving and asked Davies to switch seats with him and take the rap, fearing that Faty would be jailed for driving with a suspended license. What really happened remains unclear, but either way it was another example of poor judgment. At the very least Davies was admitting that he lied to the French police.

A former champion high school wrestler, Davies has worked extremely hard in his comeback. But when it comes to his public statements on Twitter and elsewhere, he would probably be better off under-promising and over-delivering, as U.S. coach Bob Bradley pointed out last May.

All that said, there's a reason why so many supporters and teammates are rooting for Davies to make it all the way back. He appears to be extremely well-liked by his teammates, and in my own experience interviewing Davies he has been engaging and personable. His talents and his enthusiasm for the sport (including, yes, his trademark goal celebrations) have made him a hit with many U.S. fans, who care for his health and know that Davies' absence has impacted the national team.

On Oct. 14, 2009, the day after his accident, U.S. supporters in RFK Stadium honored Davies by holding up his No. 9 during the ninth minute of the U.S.' game against Costa Rica. It was a special moment, the sign of a deep connection between a player and his fans. Depending on what happens over the next week, we may well see Charlie Davies playing in RFK again sooner than anyone had expected.

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