Dance, Dance Revolution: Charlie Davies in a Groove
Five years ago Charlie Davies was involved in a late-night car accident that upended his career and nearly took his life. The striker is back on his game now, and in the spotlight, and he cherishes every moment.
BY Brooke Tunstall Posted
November 07, 2014
November 07, 2014
"Dance is the hidden language of the soul."
NOTHING QUITE SAYS Charlie Davies is back like the dancing. When he was in his prime, when he was considered one of the best U.S. striker prospects ever, before a near-fatal car accident threatened to end his fast-rising career, Davies’ post-goal dancing celebrations were almost as memorable as the goals themselves. And the goals were usually there. Using a strong combination of pace, athleticism, and guile, Davies powered his way to a tying strike for the U.S. national team on the road against in Trinidad in a 2008 World Cup qualifier, the game-winner against Egypt in the 2009 Confederations’ Cup, and a go-ahead goal in Mexico City in a qualifier later that year. Davies also scored 21 goals in two-and-a-half seasons with Hammarby, the Swedish club where he started his pro career after three seasons at Boston College. He also found the net twice in eight games for Sochaux in France’s Ligue 1. And after almost all of them there was an expressive celebratory dance—silly and goofy but with a boyish exuberance that could make even the stiffest of lips curl a bit as teammates and fans alike relished the moment with Davies. But for most of the past five years, since the car accident, there hasn’t been much reason to dance, at least not on the field. But that changed Saturday when Davies, 28, scored a pair of vital road goals to lead his New England Revolution to a 4-2 playoff win in the first game of its two-leg series with the Columbus Crew. Davies danced after both goals, and he seemed to be celebrating not just the goals themselves but a return to form after years of struggle. “The dancing is always in good fun and it’s all about enjoying the moment and sharing it with my teammates,” Davies told American Soccer Now. “After the first goal, that was such a huge goal, an away goal in the playoffs. You almost have to celebrate that. I love to dance—I’m always dancing in the locker room and am pretty energetic and the guys all wanted to see me dance (after the goal). You can see them egging me on to dance so I did this little freestyle. "It was a blast because all the guys had so much fun with me doing it.” For all the post-goal moves he’s busted, Davies swears the dancing is always extemporaneous. “Just spontaneous, noting planned,” he said. “I’ve learned when you start planning you don’t score.” So no, he doesn't have anything planned for Sunday's rematch with Columbus at Gillette Stadium (5pm ET, ESPN 2). Davies' post-season brace did not come out of nowhere. After battling calf injuries that cost him most of preseason and the first part of the regular season, Davies worked his way into the starting lineup in July. Much has been made of the Revolution’s record since Jermaine Jones joined them in August—the team has just one loss with Jones on the roster—but with Davies as a starter the Revs are 10-2-2 including the playoff win over the Crew. Usually starting as a lone striker in the Revs 4-5-1 formation, Davies' offensive stats were modest before the outburst Sunday: three goals and four assists. But Davies has always been more focused on the team’s success. “As long as the team’s winning, I don’t care,” said Davies “Whatever I’m doing to help the team win—holding the ball up or stretching the defense or pressuring the backs—if what I’m doing is helping the team, I’m happy. As frustrating as it might be for some strikers to not score, I’m happy as long as we’re winning. That’s what matters.” Davies’ team-first evolution has not gone unnoticed by his boss. “His progression from last year when he joined us to now has been very impressive,” said Revs coach Jay Heaps, who briefly played with Davies on the 2009 U.S. Gold Cup squad. “We’ve asked Charlie to do a lot and he’s been great tactically. He’s our first line of defense, his hold-up play has been very good, and he uses his speed very effectively to make runs and create space for Lee (Nguyen) and Kelyn (Rowe) and Teal (Bunbury) to fill.” There is irony that Davies is now lauded for his maturity after poor judgment off the field cost him a likely World Cup spot and almost took his life. Five years ago last month, his career seemed destined for greatness. He was 23, had helped the U.S. national team to the final of the 2009 Confederations Cup, and had gotten off to a strong start with Sochaux. And then he helped the U.S. qualify for the 2010 World Cup, capping his qualifying run with an assist on Conor Casey’s first goal in a win over the Honduras that clinched a spot in South Africa in 2010. That was a Saturday night. The next day the U.S. flew to Washington, D.C. for its final qualifier, against Costa Rica, which was now a glorified friendly for the home team. Monday night Davies went out clubbing—breaking curfew in the process—in D.C. and early Tuesday morning caught a ride back to the team’s hotel across the Potomac in Northern Virginia. Minutes from the hotel the driver lost control of her vehicle, hit a guard rail, and tore the SUV she was driving in half. CLICK TO READ CHARLIE DAVIES' ASN QUESTIONNAIRE A fellow passenger was killed in the accident and Davies was lucky to avoid a similar fate as he suffered an array of injuries—fractured elbow, femur and tibia, lacerated bladder, multiple facial injuries and bleeding on the brain—that forever altered his career, and life. With an elite athlete’s typical swagger, Davies vowed to bounce back, beginning an aggressive rehab program with a targeted return to the U.S. team in time for it’s pre-World Cup camp in 2010. Though he didn’t realize it at the time, he never came close and was actually surprised when then-U.S. coach Bob Bradley called to tell him he wouldn’t be invited to camp. “It was definitely not realistic," Davies said of his expectations ahead of the 2010 World Cup. "I realize that now. But I had to trick myself mentally. Some people have to do that from time to time to motivate themselves. If I was realistic after my accident, where doctors weren’t sure if I would even walk right, let alone along jog or sprint, then I know there’s not a chance of playing soccer (that quickly). "But you trick yourself, then you have hope.” Still, when the call from Bradley came, it was devastating as it made him realize how much he’d lost. “To me there was no doubt I was going to be a starter in the World Cup if the accident didn’t happen. I was making so much progress game to game, and being in France, where so many teams are so competitive and there are so many great players, and I was getting so much better week to week, month to month. I really felt ‘this World Cup is going to be big for me and for the team.' With the team we had, after the Confederations’ Cup, I really thought we could be better. I thought this was where the U.S. really does something at the World Cup and could have made the 3rd/4th place match or even gone further. “But to have a childhood goal to be in a World Cup and you let it slip away, I didn’t really (accept it) until Bob gave me the call to tell me I wouldn’t be in the World Cup camp. It didn’t sink in officially until I got that call because I always had hope. When Bob gave me that call, that’s when I knew, ‘This is not gonna happen for me,’ and that I really paid the price for my actions and decisions. "It was definitely the lowest moment.” With his World Cup dream gone, Davies had a choice: quit or fight. “A lot of people would be happy to just be alive and I am grateful to just have my life. But that’s not the person I am, I always want to push myself. I always knew I could come back, never a doubt. I never thought about quitting,” he said. Though he hasn’t been back with the national team since the accident, he still feels a part of the group and shares in the camaraderie, often online or in social media, with former teammates like Jozy Altidore and Maurice Edu. But watching the team is often bittersweet because Davies often experiences a what-might-have-been feeling. “I love to watch the U.S. games because I still feel so close to the team and the players,” he said. “But it's never easy to watch U.S. games, that’s for sure. But I still feel like a part of the group. Whenever I do something well like when I scored (against Columbus), the first guys texting me were Jozy, Maurice Edu, Sacha" Kljestan. And he admits to still wanting another shot with the U.S., though he knows it may never happen. “I always say the best thing about Jurgen Klinsmann is he says the door is always open. If you perform well, help your team win, he’ll give you a chance. I know if I can continue to get better, there’s a chance I can get back and I have to take it.” After the accident, Davies spent all of 2010 continuing to rehab and in 2011 he was fit enough to play again but after a year-and-a-half away from the game he was nowhere near sharp enough to play for Sochaux. So the club loaned him to D.C. United in MLS, forcing him to play in the same town where his life almost ended. There were moments when Davies appeared to have re-captured his form—he scored five time in his five MLS games, usually with the obligatory post-goal dancing—and had a late-season hat-trick against Chivas USA. But for long periods he struggled to find his form, or the back of the net, and his body still pushed back from the rigors of weekly play. By the end of the season he was stuck on the bench of a non-playoff team. “I was basically just getting on my feet because it was literally my first season after two years out. From all the injuries I had, I had to relearn a lot of things. Everything that had come naturally wasn’t there. I had to do a lot of thinking. Nothing really felt right, felt smooth. I had to force everything. My body wasn’t anywhere near where it is now and I had to struggle with recovery (from game to game). "It was a very difficult time in D.C. It came with a lot of frustration and immaturity because I wasn’t used to being in that situation and couldn’t handle it as well as I should have. I couldn’t handle not getting minutes. I probably didn’t deal with it in a way I should have. It’s difficult to look back on my time with D.C. because, OK, I scored 11 goals and that was great, but I also put too much pressure on myself.” United opted not to extend the loan for 2012 and Davies returned to Sochaux where he struggled for first-team minutes, playing only twice. In the fall of 2012 he transferred to Danish club Randers, where he played mostly as a reserve and didn’t score in 23 appearances. So despite having grown up in New England and playing at Boston College, it was with little fanfare when Davies joined the Revolution late last season. He played just four games and did not get on the score sheet. “In Denmark I had a tough time as well, because the forwards in front of me were always scoring. As a striker it’s tough to get a chance when the people in front of you are always producing. With the Revolution, when I first came, Juan Agudelo had basically cemented his spot with team and I knew I had to wait.” He says that even though he put up better numbers with United, he’s a much better player now. “It’s night and day where I was with United. Now it feels natural, I don’t have to force it. My body recovers much more easily after games and my speed feels like it’s almost as good as it was before the accident,” he said. “I’m, stronger and smarter. I watched a lot of soccer when I was injured and I’m better for it. I’m a more multi-dimensional player than I was before, when I mostly used speed and quickness. "Now I gotta mix it up a bit more and I’m a different player but a better player.” Heaps praised Davies’ influence in the Revolution locker room, where he’s mastered the Hejdukian art of finding the right balance between keeping things loose and intense. “He’s been great off the field and in the locker room. He sets a great example but he also gets the guys laughing and shows them how to have fun but also work hard. He shows how much he loves to play.” THROUGHOUT THE WAITING and struggles and setbacks the one constant for Davies, from the emergency room to rehab to D.C. to France and Denmark and then back home to New England, has been his college sweetheart, Nina, whom he married in 2012. Davies speaks of her strength the past five years in reverential terms. “Oh my gosh, she’s been so strong. She’s probably been through more than one person can possibly take. For her to have gone through all of that with me, shows how tough she is. For how long and positive she had to be for me. She’s also a cancer survivor," Davies said of Nina, who had Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Disease as a teenager. “For her to have gone through that whole process and surviving and then to be on the opposite side and watching the person you love be in a near-death situation, having to start from scratch and be by my side and be my strength when I was not having so much and being my psychologist, I give her all the credit for where I am now. I would not be where I am now if not for her. "She was always making sure I do the right thing, eat the right things. It's pretty amazing what she’s done. She’s tender and loving, but she’s also the toughest person I ever met in my life.” The couple has settled into Nina's hometown of Hingham, Mass., just outside Boston and about an hour-and-a-half from where Davies grew up in Manchester, N.H. It's also about a half hour from Foxboro, where the Revolution play. (A few year ago Davies' parents moved to California but have flown in for this weekend’s game at Gillette Stadium which will mark the first time they’ve seen Davies play a home game for his hometown team.) Being home appears to be suiting him well. With the Revolution he’s paired with old friend Nguyen, the Revs MVP candidate midfielder whom he’s known since his youth national team days. The two of them moonlighted this fall as assistant coaches at Boston College and he says the experience left him thinking coaching is in his future. “Being home is awesome,” he said. "We’re living in the town my wife grew up in. I was able to help out at Boston College and just being around family and friends, it’s every kids dream to play for their hometown team as a professional.” But there are still more goals to accomplish. With Jones on board the Revs have transformed from a promising young team to legitimate championship threat. “Jermaine has been everything we expected, on and off the field," Davies said. "The record kind of speaks for itself since he joined us. But what’s great off the field, what he brings is an experience, knowing how to communicate to a guy what he should be doing, where he should be on the field. He raises the level of practice, the level of training and the intensity is always high. It’s great to have a guy who has done so well in the Champions League and scored big goals in a World Cup. Overall it makes us that much better. He makes us feel we can accomplish anything.” If Davies' trials and tribulations have taught him anything, it’s not to look too far ahead. He knows despite the two-goal lead and the tie-breaking road goals the Revs bring into Sunday’s contest, the team can’t afford to be complacent and look past the Crew. He also knows the team is capable of winning MLS Cup. “I would be lying if I told you no. In order to win it all you have to believe you can win it all. But at the same time you have to win the next game and focus on next game,” he said. “We have the talent to make a run. But we still have to beat Columbus and take care of them Sunday. And then if we do that, whoever wins between New York and D.C. (in the other Eastern Conference playoff series). "There are three game before MLS Cup and we have to start with another good game against the Crew.” If the Revolution do get past the Crew and somehow make it to MLS Cup, one thing that can be counted on is that there’s going to be dancing. Lots and lots of dancing. Brooke Tunstall is an American Soccer Now contributing editor and ASN 100 panelist. You can follow him on Twitter.