When the final whistle sounded on Saturday night at RFK Stadium, D.C. United forward Charlie Davies walked toward the far stands and gazed into the crowd.
He looked at the fans who had fueled a comeback he first dreamed of nearly 18 months ago while in a hospital bed just a few miles away, and he cried.
In his MLS debut with D.C., nearly a year and a half after a fatal car crash nearly took his life, Davies scored twice, once on a penalty kick and another with his trademark speed, to lead United to a 3-1 win over the Columbus Crew before a crowd of 18,132.
It was the completion of a journey that started when he woke up in a hospital, his body broken, and asked doctors, “How long am I out?” In those first days, the thought was that Davies might never step on a field again. Even Davies said he could not have imagined that the first time he did, he would have a night so remarkable.
“Of course I’ve prayed every day since I was able to survive such an accident and I’m so thankful and blessed to be able to come out on the field every day,” Davies said. “I knew I was meant for greater things to be able to come out and play soccer again after such a traumatic experience, and it just goes to show with faith, with belief in yourself that you can achieve the impossible. Today I achieved the impossible and I just got to keep doing it.”
Davies snuck onto the field in the 52nd minute almost unnoticed before the kickoff following United's first goal, but it would take little time before he had his moment.
Just more than 10 minutes after Davies entered, Chris Pontius was taken down in the box to earn a penalty kick. On the sideline, United coaches debated who would take the penalty. Captain Dax McCarty picked up the ball, and Davies went to him.
“He looked at me and he said, ‘Listen, I need this, I want it,’ and he looked at me with those eyes that he has with that passion,” McCarty said. “There’s really no other way than I was always going to defer to him.”
Davies tucked the ball into the lower right side of the net and sprinted to the far corner of the field, dancing one of his signature celebration jigs.
Davies’s comeback moment initially appeared to have been usurped.
The 24-year-old striker pulled on his jersey in the 50th minute and walked toward the center stripe to be substituted into the game, the anticipation in the stadium rising. But before he could make his long-awaited debut, D.C. United made the breakthrough it had been waiting for all night.
After dominating possession throughout the first half but lacking the chemistry up front, veteran forward Josh Wolff was rewarded for his consistently dangerous play.
Jed Zayner made a tackle to save what appeared to be a sure goal in his own penalty area, and then 30 seconds later played a ball down the right side that Wolff took off the foot of Crew defender Rich Balchan and poked it to the near post with the outside of his right foot to give United the lead in the 51st minute.
Davies got on the board soon after with the penalty, and not 15 minutes after the first goal, he was able to break out the dance that had endeared him most to fans, the “Stanky Leg.” After using his speed to tangle up Chad Marshall, Davies dribbled around the goalkeeper and scored again.
“It was for me crossing a finish line,” Davies said. “But another race starts again. It was just another hurdle, another mountain I was able to climb, conquer. But now the real journey starts for me.”