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The Rise of Charlie Davies
by Ridge Mahoney, January 6th, 2009 7AM
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For the time being, Charlie Davies is in camp with the U.S. national team, and pending further developments, he might be in Southern California for the next month.

Or, on short notice, he could be headed back to Europe in a transfer deal, to join one of two clubs that wish to pry him away from his current employer, Swedish club Hammarby IF.

"I feel like I'm ready, and not because I'm scoring goals and might be part of the national team," says Davies, who joined 22 other players at the start of U.S. training camp Monday at Home Depot Center. "I feel that if I want to take the next step in European football and make the Confederations Cup and the next World Cup, I can do that just as well in the next step, in the next league.

"But at the same time I know if nothing happens in the January transfer window, I'll go back to Hammarby and just continue to add on to what I've been doing. It's a win-win opportunity for me but obviously I'd like to have a new opportunity."

That's your mindset when you follow a rough first year in Europe by scoring 14 goals in a respected European league, and help your national team prospects by hitting the crossbar during 15 minutes of an Olympic soccer match, and scoring your first goal for the senior team in a World Cup qualifier (Oct. 15) at Trinidad & Tobago.

Consider that two years ago MLS was prepared to give Davies a 5-year contract worth more than $1 million after he'd scored 24 goals for Boston College in the 2004 and 2006 seasons (he played just one collegiate game in 2005 because of a knee injury). He turned it down.

"The situation for every player is different and in Charlie's case, it almost didn't matter what MLS offered, because he was going overseas," says Seattle Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid. "We all know that for some players it doesn't work out and in Charlie's case he's having some success and scoring goals, and that will get you noticed by other clubs in Europe, that's for certain."

French club Sochaux, which is fighting relegation, has been negotiating a transfer with Hammarby for several weeks. Also interested is a German Bundesliga club, according to Davies' agent, Lyle Yorks.

Hammarby will arrive in Southern California later this month to train at HDC - the club is one piece of Anschutz Entertainment Group's foreign sports portfolio - so he could be enjoying the SoCal sunshine for quite a while, which is fine by him.

"Once the summer is over in Sweden, it's like the North Pole, starting in about late September," says Davies, who arrived in Southern California on vacation last month after the Swedish season ended. "We have the longest preseason in the world, but if I stay with Hammarby, we won't go back until early February, which would be nice."

Davies grew up in New Hampshire and endured harsh winters at Boston College, so living in ice and slush and snow for months at a time hasn't fazed him. That was fortunate, since just about nothing else about the move to Scandinavia and adjusting to life as a pro, on and off field, turned out smoothly.

"It took a long time to get used to it," says Davies. "To be successful in that atmosphere, I think it took a big toll on me. It was pretty rough. In college everything is handed down to you, everything is there that you need. It takes at least six months to get comfortable with your situation and getting to know people not only in soccer but outside of soccer so you can get away from soccer and have some other activities."

For Davies, living well meant eating properly, getting enough rest, busting butt every day in training, and not over-indulging as a young athlete living in a seductive city like Stockholm might be tempted to do. He also got thrown into the starting lineup right away but struggled to score and lost his starting spot.

"I played almost every game but I didn't start a lot," he recalls of the 2007 season. "I started the first six games and then toward the end of the season I started maybe the last four. I scored a hat trick in the last game, so I came into the [2008] season believing not only I would be the top scorer on the team but one of the top scorers in the league."

That he did. Davies scored 14 goals for Hammarby in 2008, finishing 4th in the Allsvenskan -- four goals behind leader Patrik Ingelsten and his 19 goals for champion Kalmar FF -- despite missing about a month of league games to play in the Olympics, during which he rattled the bar with a header and fired a low shot that was saved against Nigeria with the Americans trailing, 2-1.

"It was bittersweet because I thought I did well in that 15-minute time period but I also felt I could have done so much more to help my team," he says. "But that's how soccer goes sometimes so you just have to deal with it."

Many of the Olympic players needed a few weeks to deal with returning to their clubs, but not Davies. "My first game back I scored, and I think I scored in four of the next six games," he says. He netted twice in the final game of the season, a 5-2 defeat that left Hammarby ninth in the 16-team Allsvenskan.

"For me at Hammarby, my coach [Tony Gustavsson] is always adamant that I'm the highest striker. He wants me on the shoulder of the last defender and getting in behind and creating as much space as I can for the midfielders with my runs.

"It does get lonely at times but in this past year I was able to adjust, so if I move to team I would be able to adapt to a different formation or system."


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