U.S. soccer star Charlie Davies frustrated by path to recovery

By Nicolas Brulliard
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, November 17, 2010; 11:18 PM

MONTBELIARD, FRANCE - To most outside observers, Charlie Davies's recovery since his terrifying car crash a little more than a year ago has been nothing short of spectacular. But for the young striker himself, he has yet to achieve what he covets most: a return to top-flight soccer.

After a recent practice session with Sochaux - the French team he joined before his accident - Davies said he might be only days away from first-team action. It is not the first time the naturally optimistic Davies has made such a prediction. Earlier this year, he proclaimed he would be fit enough for inclusion on the U.S. World Cup squad, even though he suffered multiple severe injuries in the accident.

Davies did not take part in a competitive match for the rest of the season, however, and was forced to watch his American teammates compete last summer in South Africa on television.

This time, Davies believes things are different. He started playing competitively again this season - albeit with Sochaux's reserve team - and scored his first goal on a penalty kick in a recent friendly. Plus, his physical fitness has improved drastically in recent months. Davies already matches his pre-accident strength and endurance levels, and his speed is steadily improving. His performances in speed drills placed him among the last three of Sochaux's 28 pros in July. He now ranks among the squad's top eight performers.

"I can feel my old self come out more and more often in trainings," Davies said. "Once I get my first-team chance, I think that will really bring me back to where I need to be."

But for all his progress, Davies's play is still limited to Sochaux's reserve team, which competes in the fourth tier of French soccer.

"He hasn't quite recovered a fitness level sufficient to play in Ligue 1," said Sochaux fitness trainer Cédric Blomme, referring to French soccer's premier competition. "In any case, he knows it because every week the first-team roster comes out and his name is not included."

The gap between Davies's optimism and his French team's more realistic expectations is a recurring theme of the 24-year-old's path to recovery. Blomme said Davies's lofty World Cup ambitions actually helped him speed up the early stages of his rehabilitation, but Blomme suggested it was only after failing to make the World Cup squad that Davies fully realized the extent of the work ahead of him.

After missing the cut for the World Cup in May, the usually affable Davies lashed out at Sochaux's management on French radio, blaming the club for not giving him the opportunity to show his readiness to U.S. coaches. Months later, Davies now admits his World Cup goal was not realistic.

"Deep down inside me I knew it was a long shot to make it," Davies said.

That Davies would even be in a position to again compete for a spot on a professional team was not a sure thing in the immediate aftermath of the one-car crash on the George Washington Parkway in October 2009. The accident, which killed another passenger, resulted in fractures to his right leg, left elbow, eye socket and nose; a torn ligament in his left knee; a lacerated bladder; and serious head trauma.

The driver in the accident, Maria Alejandra Espinoza, pleaded guilty to two alcohol-related felonies in federal court on Tuesday, and will be sentenced to prison in February.

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