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Charlie Davies woke up five years ago to find stitches crisscrossing his body. Bones were shattered in his face, his elbow and his right leg — the same leg that just a few months before had scored a historic goal in Mexico for the U.S. Soccer Men's National Team.
The Manchester, New Hampshire, native had been in top form in 2009, playing in the French league on a big contract. And he had been thrilling U.S. soccer fans with his speed and skill, and with the passion he showed in his goofy goal celebrations.
But Davies made a life-altering decision two days before a World Cup qualifying match in Washington, D.C. He was out past team curfew at a bar and he accepted a ride home from a stranger who Davies says he didn't know had been drinking.
The single-car accident split the SUV into two pieces. It killed another passenger. Team doctors say Davies may have only survived because he was in such good shape.
"At one second I think I’m playing in the World Cup, the next it’s people are wondering if I’m going to walk again," Davies recalled.
Davies' body was weak, but he drew on the mental strength he'd developed growing up with a mother with mental illness and a father who struggled with drug addiction. His girlfriend, whom he had met in theology class his freshman year at Boston College and would become his wife, helped him stop dwelling on everything that he’d lost, and start focusing on everything he still had.
"He’s got bandages, all blue and black and green and all colors from getting in the accident," recalled BC soccer coach Ed Kelly, who visited his former player in the hospital. "And he’s got his thumb up in the air like, 'Yeah!' You know, smiling."
I can't believe its been 5 years! Thank you for all your support through the years! A positive outlook can do wonders pic.twitter.com/atS0vf9dvM
— Charlie Davies (@CharlieDavies9) October 13, 2014
Less than a year later, Davies was back on the field. But his speed was stunted, his body couldn't do what his mind was thinking. He could overhear his teammates wondering why he was even on the field.
And he was in pain. The operations left him with metal screws and plates in his face, and with titanium rods in his right leg. That leg is now tilted slightly outward and one inch shorter than the other.
For years, Davies bounced around to different teams in Europe and the United States. Occasionally, the old Charlie Davies would show in flashes. Never consistently. His body could never handle playing more than one game in a week.
Last year, the New England Revolution signed Davies and kept him on for the 2014 season even though he'd seen little playing time. But that didn't starve his attitude.
"He comes every day to the training ground," team captain José Gonçalves said Wednesday. "And he’s the first guy who has a story to tell to the guys to make them smile and laugh."
Davies says after everything that happened, how could he not? "Just being able to wake up every day, I’m so thankful," he said. "Every time I get to come to the locker room to practice or train, or just be around the guys, I’m so happy."
Davies finally got his chance to start for the team this summer, when the Revolution, like his career, were in a mid-season slump, having lost eight straight games.
"We gave him a stable environment," said Revs coach Jay Heaps. "But he was fighting for his position every day. To the point that when he did get his chance, the staff was rooting for him, the entire team was rooting for him, and I think that he’s been the inspirational guy, that every time he started the team wanted to help him play better, and I think that that’s a pretty amazing story."
Five years after that devastating car accident, Charlie Davies said his body is finally back to where it was. And he said his confidence is back too. But, after all his experiences, he said he’s a different player.
"I’ve grown so much and feel like I’m not only a better person, I feel like I’m a better player for that," Davies said.
This past weekend, Davies showed his grit when he headed in two goals to put New England through to the MLS Cup.
"He's been huge," said Revolution defender Andrew Farrell after the conference championship. "And his perseverance and his fight through everything he’s had to go through shows when he gets on the field, and in those instances when he puts those games away for us."
This Sunday in the MLS Cup, Davies will put a spacer inside one of his soccer boots to accommodate his shorter leg. He'll lace them up, and he’ll run out on the field, displaying the scar that traces his scalp like the seam of a ball, and he’ll be determined to make the most of his second chance.
"In this career, things can change like that," Davies said. "I make sure that guys in the locker room realize how special this occasion is and how lucky we are to play. And don’t take it for granted."
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