The Appeal of Charlie Davies

As an American soccer fan, I’m rooting for Charlie Davies to win the Golden Boot this year.

Of course, part of this has to do with his redemption story. Coming back from a horrific accident that cost him a trip to the World Cup, and trying to rebuild in the very same city where the accident happened. But I also believe that Charlie Davies winning the Golden Boot, in the biggest MLS season ever, will go a long way in connecting MLS and the USMNT to the American soccer fan.

American fans are desperately waiting for the next great forward, and we are all curious about where he will come from. Many accept that his path will somehow involve MLS, but the dream remains to see him playing for a top European club, holding his own against some of the world’s greatest defenders. Few believe that he will be in MLS long enough to win one, or even multiple scoring titles. As a result, many players who show tremendous potential in MLS are urged to Europe by fans, seemingly just to fulfill some kind of prophecy.

With all of the hype surrounding the ‘next big thing’, hardly any attention is paid to those who are able to score week in and week out for their MLS clubs. These are the last five MLS Golden Boot winners, with their previous year goal total in parenthesis:

2010 Chris Wondolowski 18 goals (5)

2009 Jeff Cunningham  17 goals(8)

2008 Landon Donovan 20 goals (8)

2007 Luciano Emilio 20 goals(na)

2006 Jeff Cunningham 16 goals (12)

 

Now, take a look at a few of the transfer fees that MLS received in 2008 alone:

$10m – Jozy Altidore
$5m – Maurice Edu
$4m – Eddie Johnson
$1.5m – Brad Guzan
$1m – Juan Toja
$1m – Michael Bradley (20% sell on of $5m transfer)

Many fans assume that if Jozy had stuck around in MLS, he would be scoring 30 goals a season and toying with MLS defenders. Same with Eddie Johnson. And Freddy Adu. But just because these players are showing promise at a prime age, they are placed ahead of the Jeff Cunningham’s and Taylor Twellman’s, who by the way, are Americans. In fact, 10 of the 15 MLS Golden Boot winners have been American. Yet only Landon Donovan, and (briefly) Eddie Johnson, were actually seen as potential world class forwards. Jeff Cunningham, a two-time Golden Boot winner, and MLS second all-time leading scorer, has a grand total of 14 caps and 1 goal for the USMNT.

Then there is Charlie Davies. An established USMNT product who is now in a situation where he is forced to prove to Bob Bradley and the fans that he is the player we all believe he can be. Some view this as a ‘rehab’ stint, and have already cornered Davies into a no-win situation. If he does well, he’s just warming up and getting ready to go back to Europe. If he simply scores 10 goals and gets DC to the playoffs, then the horrific accident clearly has some long-term effects, and suddenly Davies is marginalized into being just another good MLS forward.

This is the wrong way to look at things. Certainly there was promise for Jozy Altidore as he headed to Villareal. Same with Eddie Johnson to Fulham. But the reality is that dominating a league is what gives forwards the confidence to be so great on the national level. Ask Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Karim Benzema how many local scoring titles they won, before moving onto bigger and better. Perhaps with an established USMNT star winning the MLS Golden Boot, we can stop putting the cart before the horse, and acknowledge that our next great scorer must truly be ‘Made in USA’

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