On Dec. 19, 2010, Charlie Davies made his triumphant return to Sochaux's first team, a mere 14 months after the well-documented car accident that nearly took his life and claimed the life of another passenger. On the surface, it appeared to be a dream development, but in reality, the personnel decision was a symbolic gesture made by Sochaux's technical staff to award his progress. Davies knew he wasn't going to get on the field against Bordeaux that day, and so did his coaches.
He didn't sniff the club's first team roster again. Until this past Saturday.
Wearing Sochaux's No. 12 shirt, Davies made his entry against Stade Rennes on Saturday as a 78th-minute substitute to complete his European comeback and make his first appearance with the French club since Oct. 3, 2009. Returning to the mix at Sochaux was a bit of a surprise development, but one that indicates that he is even further along in his progression than some may have anticipated.
After an uneven season on loan with MLS' D.C. United, one that started with a two-goal dream debut and one that ended with him out of favor despite netting 11 goals in all, Davies returned to Sochaux to train with the club and play for its reserve side while assessing his options. Under contract until the end of the 2012-13 season, it would appear that his best option at the moment is to stay right where he is.
For the 25-year-old Davies, the opportunity has presented itself to make his mark with the club, which is desperately trying to fight off relegation. Sochaux has gone 2-10-4 in all competitions since Oct. 1 and sits dead last in the Ligue 1 table, with just 19 points from 22 matches. More applicable to Davies, the club's 22 goals are tied for second-worst in the league. On the plus side, freedom from worry is just three points away, as the bottom-heavy table has eight teams separated by four points.
It's not all roses for Davies. Guinea's Abdoul Camara and Mali's Modibo Maiga have returned from the African Cup of Nations and will provide more competition for minutes. The club's attacking struggles have certainly opened the door for alternative options, though, and that's where Davies can slot in, using his still-returning pace to stretch defenses, take on defenders and add a different element to Sochaux's approach.
What Davies' situation has taught us -- and U.S. center back Oguchi Onyewu before him to another extent -- is that no matter how advanced the medical field has gotten, it takes a while for even the fittest of athletes to recover to their full extent from serious injuries. Patience must be exercised and expectations must be tempered, but writing someone like Davies off too soon is far from the right tactic, too. For Onyewu, it took about two years following a torn patellar tendon before he returned to his peak level. That, coupled with a great club situation in Portugal, has him well on his way to becoming the Onyewu of old.
Even though Davies showed flashes of his old self with D.C. last year, he is still not even 2½ years removed from an accident that left him with injuries that could have ended his playing career altogether. The more time on the field he gets to rediscover himself, the better, but it is a process and not a short one at that. This weekend's development was the next step in that process.
The constant begging among some fans for his re-inclusion on the national team -- and Davies' own assertion that he would have been considered for the 2011 Gold Cup roster if not for a poorly timed hamstring injury -- was a testament to the glimpses of effectiveness he showed in D.C. along with his reputation and potential, but the reality of the situation was that he just was not ready. Those who were quick to cast Davies, an everlasting fighter, aside after his MLS loan spell are not in the right either, though.
More appearances for Sochaux and continuing to compete in Europe while regaining his maximum level of play over time will ultimately be the determining factors in his international future. Davies knows a thing or two about patience, climbing the figurative mountain and achieving landmark moments. Saturday's was just the latest in his comeback story that is far from reaching its final chapter.
While Davies' return was the most notable item to emanate from this weekend's games, there were productive moments on the field elsewhere, too. Jozy Altidore scored twice in a midweek league match, Clint Dempsey had a blast from distance hit the crossbar and goalkeeper for a stylish own goal and Landon Donovan, Maurice Edu, Carlos Bocanegra and DaMarcus Beasley each had a hand in setting up goals for their respective teams over the weekend. Here's how they and the rest of the Americans playing abroad fared over this past week (season statistics encompass all competitions):