Where there's smoke, there's fire. DC United confirmed just a few minutes ago that FC Sochaux and US national team striker Charlie Davies will join the club's training camp in Fort Lauderdale, FL for what the Black-and-Red are calling a one-week "evaluation." United says that Davies will have to prove his fitness in training sessions, scrimmages, and will undergo a full medical administered by team doctors. The terms of the deal between Davies, Sochaux, United, and MLS are agreed upon by all sides; if Davies proves himself fit, he will join DC on a twelve month loan.
This news has obviously generated quite a buzz. Anything concerning Davies is already big news amongst US fans after the horrific, fatal car accident that nearly ended his career. Meanwhile, everyone that follows MLS knows that DC's biggest weakness is the lack of a big-time goalscorer. Within the realm of even remote possibility, there are few (if any) potential names that could create a bigger splash amongst United fans. Davies, for his part, seems excited.
Still, it's important to stay grounded. Davies has not played a competitive, top-level match since the accident in October of 2009. Sochaux has given him time in reserve matches - the rough equivalent of the French 4th division - and he has made the bench just once this season (and even that was considered more of a reward for his hard work rather than a serious move to use him in Sochaux's match against Bordeaux).
Read past the jump to see me more or less ignore that paragraph.
Assuming that Davies arrives in camp physically fit, mentally in the right place, and (with most of camp under his belt) is ready for real match action come March 19th, he could potentially have a major impact on how United plays. Like he did with the national team, Davies has the combination of speed and elusiveness that leaves defenders having nightmares. When facing a player like Davies, teams will either try to trap him offside (leaving their fate in the hands of MLS referees...good luck with that) or play a deeper line to mitigate the fact that Davies will likely be able to outrun anyone they have defending him. That deep line in turn forces the opposing midfield to drop deeper or risk leaving massive gaps, which become their own problem very quickly.
This means that United will get benefits on both sides of the ball. When we attack, our opponent will be defending closer to goal than they'd like, while also conceding more space for our midfield to implement the possession style coach Ben Olsen says he'd like us to play. Defensively, meanwhile, it means that other teams will have that much more ground to cover when going forward, since they'll likely be winning the ball deeper than they would if they could play a higher line. While your starting "field position" isn't nearly as critical in soccer as it is in football, it's still tougher to have to move the ball 80-90 yards than it is to start your attack at midfield.
Davies has done most of his best work playing alongside a partner (most famously, Jozy Altidore), so the 442 discussed here a few days ago appears more and more likely. Whether he pairs best with Josh Wolff, Chris Pontius, Joseph Ngwenya, or even Santino Quaranta will be something Olsen has to figure out during the preseason. For some reason, I find myself with the gut feeling that Wolff might be the ideal partner out of that group, but the door would be open to anyone.
It's also worth considering that given the right kind of approach - one based on quick ball movement and an insistence on aggressive, north-south passing - we could also play with Davies as the lone forward. The key would be that, since he's not really a back-to-goal kind of forward, our midfielders would have to be able to get forward very quickly. That won't be a problem for Andy Najar, and it might also give Chris Pontius a leg up in the battle for time on the opposite wing. If Branko Boskovic and Dax McCarty are ready and able to play a steady stream of through balls, this could be an extraordinarily difficult attack to defend against.
All of this is based on a massive assumption, of course, but the potential for an attack that features Davies, Najar, and McCarty is extremely high. After United set an MLS record for offensive futility, and had to rely on a 17 year old as our best (only?) real offensive threat, this is the kind of news we wanted to hear. While there is the justifiable concern that Davies will never find his 2009 form ever again, signing the mysterious foreign striker we all thought we'd end up with came with similar uncertainty. For every Luciano Emilio, there are a handful of Sergio Galvan Reys out there.
This is the kind of big move this club used to make before the disastrous 2008 season left the club gun-shy. For years, DC United "went for it," for lack of a better term. This was a club that signed Earnie Stewart and Freddy Adu, that took a chance on Peter Nowak as a head coach and on Jaime Moreno 2.0. I can't help but notice that, since appointing Olsen as head coach, there seems to be the beginning of a real cultural shift at DC United. Last season, for example, we made a bunch of "safe" moves (Curt Onalfo, Danny Allsopp, etc) that left us treading water or falling behind a league where many teams are progressing at a furious pace. Standing pat is no longer an option in MLS when you have Seattle shooting for the stars, New York finally figuring things out, and Real Salt Lake piecing together arguably the best roster in recent MLS history. The formerly anonymous Colorado Rapids managed to win the 2010 MLS Cup.
The only way forward is to be aggressive, and the "Olsen's Army" mentality that has been brewing since Benny took the job appears to embrace that fact. Signing Davies is a potential master stroke on the field, but perhaps more importantly it signals a new day where DC United knows that, to win in MLS, you have to work at being the best team in the league every day, on and off the field. It's the kind of move we'd have made under Bruce Arena or Nowak.
In the end, it just feels right.