Charlie Davies was a burgeoning star.
His performance in this summer’s Confederations Cup made him a fixture in the U.S. national team’s starting lineup.
He featured world class speed, surprising strength and a knack for scoring goals.
Davies had assured himself a major role in Bob Bradley’s plans for next summer’s World Cup in South Africa.
A one-car accident ended those hopes on Tuesday.
We can’t forget that a person died and Davies and the car’s driver are seriously injured. Davies himself was in surgery for more than five hours having titanium rods placed in his legs, a lacerated bladder fixed and facial and elbow fractures set. He’s lucky to be alive. A picture of the back half of the car, which D.C. police said was “split in two,” was hard to look at it. It was ever harder to imagine anyone walking away from a crash that left a car looking that mangled.
Details about the accident are still unclear, but Davies’ long-term outlook looks brighter today than it did most of yesterday. Doctors say his supreme athletic condition will make it easier for him to recover, which they say will take anywhere from 6-12 months.
Davies will miss the 2010 World Cup.
It’s sad for him. He’s worked his whole life for the opportunity to play in the World Cup, the biggest sporting spectacle on Earth. And now, he won’t be able to, at least not in 2010.
Davies will be 27 in 2014 and he’s got a long road to recovery ahead, but that fact alone is miraculous.
However, now it’s time to look ahead at what Davies’ injury means for the U.S. national team.
It sounds awful, but at least the timing of Davies’ accident gives the U.S. a chance to audition new forwards. Finding a replacement for Davies won’t be easy. But remember, how many people this time last year were that high on Charlie Davies?
My friends can testify that I was, but most American soccer fans knew little about the pacy New Englander.
Problem is, U.S. coach Bob Bradley is painstakingly stubborn when it comes to integrating new, young talent into the national team scene. That’s why Davies and Jozy Altidore’s emergences were greeted with such excitement. The Americans’ performance in the Confederations Cup offered fans a glimpse of a more athletic, explosive American national team. None were more explosive than Davies.
Bradley prefers slow and steady. Davies was anything but. His speed was world class. Re-watch the U.S.’ second goal against Brazil when Davies and Landon Donovan absolutely torched the Brazilians on the counterattack in the Cup final.
There’s no doubt losing Davies is a blow to the U.S.’s chances of World Cup success. Even the biggest soccer neophyte knows you win by scoring more goals than the other team. American goal scorers have been few and far between on the international stage. Davies looked like a potential exception to the rule. He lit up the Swedish League before a move this summer to Ligue 1 in France to play for Sochaux. The French first division isn’t the English Premier League, but it’s still a top-five league in Europe, and Davies was starting and tied for the team lead in goals after eight games.
Who replaces Davies? Bradley has some tough decisions.
The U.S. coach might revert to his preferred one-forward formation with Davies out. It was Davies’ emergence that forced Bradley’s hand to move to a two-forward plan.
Bradley loves target forwards (big guys who can hold the ball up for other players to play off of). A target forward always works better with a hornet-like partner who can get behind the defense and take advantage of the physical attributes of his big bodied pal.
Davies was the Americans’ best hornet.
Landon Donovan can fill this role if Bradley decides to move the national team’s all-time goals leader up front and pair him with either Jozy Altidore, Conor Casey or Brian Ching. Moving Donovan up top would allow Bradley to find a place for Stuart Holden on the flank with Clint Dempsey remaining in his wide midfield position as well.
Though Dempsey has shown an ability to play forward and score timely goals for both club (Fulham) and country, Dempsey won’t run away from too many defenders. For any U.S. soccer fan who watched the Americans’ performance in the U-20 World Cup earlier this month, you know there isn’t a stud youngster on the horizon (we’re not counting Altidore, who is an established senior national team member).
If Bradley decides to stick with the two-forward formation that has been working for the U.S. this summer and fall, here are a list of possible replacements:
Jozy Altidore – Not really a replacement for Davies, Jozy was hoping to be a compliment to the speedster. Altidore won’t be 20 until Nov. 6, but Jozy is already the U.S.’ best forward. He’s big, strong and fast. Plus, he scores. Currently plying his trade for Hull City in the English Premier League, Altidore has struggled to get first-team minutes, but he’s obviously more dangerous than any other American striker. He was brought along slowly by Bradley, but now the teenager will have to lead the line in South Africa.
My Feeling: It has to be The Jozy Show.
Conor Casey – If not for Casey’s two-goal performance in Honduras on Saturday, the Americans would be sweating out their final qualifier against Costa Rica with heavy hearts. The 6-foot-1 Casey isn’t flashy. But he’s willing to put his body on the line, evidenced by his first goal in Tegucigalpa. It has to be noted that Casey’s appearance on Saturday was his 15th with the national team. But it was the first time he scored for the Stars and Stripes. The 28-year old has had two knee surgeries and lacks explosiveness, but he has a knack for scoring goals and is currently second in the MLS with 16 goals. Again, he’s not sexy and U.S. fans would rather see Casey on the sidelines, but if anything Bradley is loyal to a fault and Casey has put in his time.
My feeling: I guess if it has to be someone…
Brian Ching - A member of the 2006 World Cup team, Ching has struggled to endear himself to the American soccer fan for a number of reasons. First, he’s not Brian McBride. McBride set the bar high for any big aerial presence on the U.S. frontline. Plus, the Hawaiian has obvious limitations leading many fans to clamor for younger players with more promise. But Ching is steady and Bob Bradley loves steady. The Houston Dynamo frontman has netted 10 times for the U.S. in 43 appearances and is always among the league leaders in the MLS.
My feeling: Pass.
Kenny Cooper - The de facto man crush for U.S. soccer fans, Cooper certainly passes the eye test. He’s 6-foot-3, has superior technical ability and scores beautiful goals. A Manchester United trainee from 2004-06, Cooper returned to the States to play in the MLS after failing to make an impression in England. In 90 games for Dallas, Cooper scored 40 times and was constantly one of the most dangerous forwards in MLS. English club Cardiff City and Norway giants Rosenborg both tried to sign Cooper, but balked at the MLS’s asking price. He was finally sold this summer to 1860 Munich, one of the bigger clubs in the German second division. Cooper scored on his debut and has two goals in six games so far this season. Despite his domestic exploits, Cooper has just nine senior national team appearances. Though he’s scored four goals. For some reason, Bob Bradley can’t find room for him in the lineup. Word is, the coaches aren’t impressed with his positional play and awareness. I’ll take a goal nearly every two games thank you very much. Playing in Europe will undoubtedly help Cooper’s maturation, but he still has a ways to go to earn Bradley’s trust.
My feeling: Has to be on the team.
Robbie Findley – Just 24-years old, Findley is having his best MLS season to date with 10 goals in 17 starts for Real Salt Lake. Having chosen to play for the U.S. instead of his parents’ homeland Trinidad and Tobago, the former Oregon State Beaver has just one cap for the Stars and Stripes (a substitute appearance in a 2007 friendly versus Switzerland). However, this summer, Findley made the 24-man roster for qualifiers against El Salvador and T&T, but didn’t see the field. In January, Findley tried his hand with Danish Superliga team Brondby IF. Despite scoring twice in the club’s practice game, Findley failed to secure a contract from the team (one of Denmark’s traditional powers). He may not be as fast or as polished as Davies, but Findley has all the tools. He’s just frustrated coaches over not always using them correctly. With qualifying over, Findley must use the rest of the MLS season to work his way back into Bradley’s plans and hope to impress in training camps and national team friendlies.
My feeling: Better than the remaining options. Could be another Edson Buddle. Not a good thing.
Freddy Adu – To classify Adu as anything other than a disappointment would be putting it mildly. The one-time wonder kid has failed to live up to the ridiculous hype surrounding him when he signed with the MLS at 14-years old. But that doesn’t mean Adu is a complete bust. He’s still just 20-years old. After struggling to find first-team opportunities with Benfica (Portugal) and Monaco (France), Adu was loaned out to Belenenses, another Portuguese team. Freddy had a breakout tournament in the U-20 World Cup in 2007, but that was playing with kids his age. At the senior level, Freddy just hasn’t ever looked like the same offensive genius he does at the youth level. This summer’s Gold Cup was supposed to be his chance to show Bradley he was worth strong consideration for the 2010 World Cup roster. He failed to impress and didn’t finish the tournament with the team, instead being sent back to Portugal for preseason conditioning. Adu will never be the superstar he was pumped up to be. But again, he’s still young. Really young. He’s only 20.
My feeling: If he was repackaged as anything other than Freddy Adu we’d love this kid. A late sub at best.
Eddie Johnson – Where oh where has Eddie Johnson disappeared to? Remember EJ? He was scoring goals at a prolific rate against Caribbean competition in World Cup qualifying with electrifying pace and scored back-to-back hat tricks during the 2007 MLS season and was hot property. He left the MLS for England, signing with U.S. Soccer’s surrogate English mother, Fulham. Johnson never settled in at Craven Cottage and was loaned out to Cardiff City in the Championship (England’s second division). While at Cardiff, Johnson was nothing more than a bench player, who occasionally made a late substitute appearance. His soccer sense is right up there with Jessica Simpson’s political awareness. But he was something of a fan favorite at Cardiff, for nothing more than trying really hard and being really fast. He’s now back with Fulham and still riding the pine, buried somewhere deep down the pecking order. He has gotten the occasional sniff this season with Fulham competing in the Europa League and other domestic cup competitions. The only thing really working in Johnson’s favor is his familiarity with the national team setup and Bradley loves familiarity.
My feeling: Which way did he go?
Marcus Tracy - Much like Davies, Tracy was another college standout who chose Scandinavia over the MLS. Tracy (pictured) won a NCAA title at Wake Forest and was named the 2008 Hermann Trophy winner (college soccer’s version of the Heisman). He’s 6-foot-1, can fly and sure can leap. Here’s his first and only goal for Danish club Aalborg. Tracy hasn’t really been on Bradley’s radar for 2010, and with good reason. The 23-year old, while the same age as Davies, is about two years behind Davies in terms of professional progression. It’s hard to plug guys in this late in the game who have never competed at the international level. Tracy is a longshot, but if he starts turning heads in Denmark, he could get a look.
My feeling: Could be a sleeper that emerges late. But don’t bet on it.
Jeff Cunningham – He’s no spring chicken at 33-years old, but the Jamaican-born naturalized-American leads the MLS with 17 goals. He’s scored pretty much everywhere he’s gone. Remember, the World Cup is in less than 10 months, not two years. Cunningham appears to be in his prime right now. Why not give him a look? Cunningham hasn’t featured with the national team since 2006, but how can a candidate for MLS MVP be overlooked when retreads like Ching continue to get looks?
My feeling: No chance in hell Bradley does this.