Charlie Davies did for D.C. United on Saturday night what Charlie Davies has done so often for the club this season: use his speed to create space, threaten the opposition in the box, earn a penalty and then convert the kick for a goal.
Saturday’s effort was a bit more controversial than usual, though, because while the speed and the threat were real, the contact that led to the penalty sort of wasn’t. I mean, I’m not an expert, but watch the replay below. You’ve probably seen amateur badminton matches with more contact than this particular play.
Davies “turned to theatrics to draw an undeserved penalty kick,” Steve Goff wrote
“He just kicked it away and jumped over,” Chris Wingert, the victimized defender, said. “It’s almost laughable.”
“Charlie Davies with an absolutely comical dive,” Steve Davis wrote. “But, this being MLS, he gets the PK. Word to MLS refs: The guy dives. Stop falling for it.
Salt Lake fans said plenty more, and plenty that was nastier. And so, when I saw Davies on the practice range before United’s Celebrity Golf Tournament Monday afternoon, I asked what he thought of the call.
“I think the ref made the call, that’s what I think,” Davies said with a laugh.
“Beautiful call,” fellow forward Josh Wolff chimed in.
“That’s the one word to use, beautiful,” Davies agreed.
“The key word is [Wingert] impeded you,” Wolff concluded.
Now, they were obviously joking around a bit here, but I talked to both strikers at greater length. Sure, fans and media members disapproved, but when you’re on the field and your team has just earned a crucial road point in a match that saw several other narrowly missed opportunities, maybe your perspective is different.
“I watched the replay, you’ve seen the replay: it’s probably not a PK,” Chris Pontius told me. “If [Davies] does that to me in practice, I’ll give him a hard time, but as long as he’s scoring for us I’m not gonna say anything.”
(”In practice I’d run him over, so it wouldn’t be an issue,” Davies cracked, when I told him what Pontius said.)
Wolff and Davies both talked about how complaints of diving always focus on forwards, but how midfielders and defenders and goalkeepers will also try to sell fouls to officials, how this happens in every level of soccer in all parts of the world.
“They all utilize a little embellishment here and there,” Wolff said. “Are you happy to see it if you’re a fan? Probably not. But he put himself in position to get a goal by putting the ref in a tough spot. You hate to see diving in the game, but it’s always gonna be there. And the idea is to get defenders in tough spots. Charlie did that this time and got rewarded for it.”
As for Davies, the striker talked about basketball players like Kobe Bryant and Reggie Miller and yes, LeBron James selling fouls to officials, using their physical positioning and their reputations to help their teams win. Defenders, he said, should never leave their feet in the box if they don’t want to put referees on the spot to make a split-second decision. Referees, he said, have to do their best to decide what is real and what is not, but players are responsible for earning results.
“Great players do whatever they can to change the game,” he said. “It’s something you shouldn’t be ashamed about if you want to give your team an edge. That’s part of the game.”
And while the move above might not have been graceful, players said that earning a penalty is a sort of skill of its own.
“If you can’t dive, you can’t dive,” Pontius said. “Some people make it look fluid, like it’s part of the game. Others, not so much.”
And so, was Saturday’s tumble a dive?
“I wouldn’t use dive,” Davies said with a grin. “I’d use embellishment. It’s selling it, that’s the word I’d use.”