Learning to walk and run again. Returning to a soccer field. Playing in a reserve match. Appearing in a regular season game. Converting a penalty kick. Scoring a goal in the run of play. Resurrecting his celebratory dance steps.
The next objective is to start in a consequential match, something he hasn’t done since the U.S. national team’s World Cup qualifier in Honduras 18 months ago.
His patience will probably be rewarded Saturday evening in Toronto.
United Coach Ben Olsen has brought along Davies in measured terms, summoning him off the bench in the second half of three MLS matches and leaving him off the roster once as a precautionary measure.
Davies is healthy. His fitness level is high. He leads the league in scoring with four goals. And although neither he nor Olsen would reveal the lineup plans, Davies appears on course for his maiden MLS start.
“I hope so,” he said after Friday’s closed practice. “If I am called upon to play, I’ll be ready for it.”
Upon his recovery last year, Davies played exclusively in reserve matches for Sochaux, the French club that loaned him to United for the 2011 season.
After scoring three goals in the first two MLS matches, Davies was slated to start at Colorado two weeks ago, but a minor groin injury sidelined him for that match and a subsequent U.S. Open Cup qualifier.
Because of the time off, he was relegated back to a reserve role last weekend against the Los Angeles Galaxy. (He scored a 90th-minute equalizer on a penalty kick.)
With a quality week of training, Davies appears to have returned to the top of Olsen’s list.
“They’ve all looked good, they’re all 100 percent,” Olsen said of his frontline quartet. “Obviously, I have a decision to make there.”
In practice sessions Tuesday and Thursday, the coaching staff paired Davies with veteran Josh Wolff and then tested him alongside rookie Blake Brettschneider. Joseph Ngwenya, who started the first two league matches without making a major impact, has fallen on the depth chart.
“It’s actually genius of what Coach Olsen has done for me,” said Davies, who has played 120 minutes overall and converted three penalty kicks.
“I haven’t played in a year and half, and just to throw me in, regardless of whether I am ready or not to start, it’s an easy way to pick up injuries. He’s done a great job of just giving me a little bit, a little bit, a little bit more, really letting me get used to the league, get used to the team, and get minutes under my belt.”
If, indeed, Davies’ time has come, Olsen must decide with whom to partner him. United has scored just one goal in the run of play since the opener and is in need of improved chemistry on the frontline.
Brettschneider offers a strong, physical presence, which, in theory, would balance well with Davies’ pace. However, with just two MLS appearances, Brettschneider remains a work in progress.
“His learning curve has been very good,” assistant coach Chad Ashton said. “The biggest thing is adjusting his brain to the speed of play. Things are happening a lot quicker than he is used to. We need him to hold the ball, and at times, he’s doing the hardest part of it and then he’s not getting it off his feet quick enough for us to maintain possession.”
Wolff is small and, like Davies, utilizes cunning and quickness – which suggests a compatibility issue. Olsen disagrees.
“You could maybe compare them where Wolffy was four years ago,” the coach said of the 14-year pro. “Wolffy is a pretty well-rounded player, and out of our forwards, he is probably the cleanest and the most savvy.”
Pairing Davies and Wolff would require United to play the ball to their feet and abandon any hope of winning high balls.
“I’ve been a big advocate of the big forward-small forward combination, but it doesn’t have to be,” Wolff said. “The reason I’ve been able to hang around, I’ve been compatible with a lot of guys.”
Said Davies: “It’s great whether I play with Josh or Blake or Joe. In every way, I still have to do my job. I’m happy we have a good group of guys who can be interchanged.”
United Notes: Defender Perry Kitchen, who missed several practices with a stomach illness, traveled with the team. If he isn’t fit to start, fellow rookie Ethan White is the top choice to step in. . . . Midfielder Santino Quaranta will serve a one-game suspension for receiving a red card last week.