Charlie Davies dives, and everyone knows it. Even Charlie Davies.
After his latest dive against Real Salt Lake, his propensity to "embellish" was put on display for the world to see. Video replay shows that when RSL defender Chris Wingert slid to challenge Davies on his run into the area, he never touched him. (In fact, Wingert had time to pull his leg away so Davies wouldn't fall on it.)
The official running behind the play had a bad angle, took the bait and awarded Davies a penalty kick. Davies stood up, smirked at Wingert, and said, "That's soccer." Davies converted the penalty and DC United gained a valuable point on the road.
Well played, Charlie.
Leaving the debate over diving out of it...who cares? Why should fans of soccer care that Davies did what he had to in order to gain a valuable point on the road?
The reason is that it creates concerns of when will he be back -- not just back on the field, but back back. Before his fateful car accident in October 2009, Davies was one of the most exciting U.S. soccer players. The best part is that he wasn't a keeper or a midfielder -- he was a striker. The U.S. has had a (relatively) long tradition of producing quality midfielders and top-flight goalkeepers, but never a striker.
During the 2009 Confederations Cup, when he was paired up top with Jozy Altidore, Davies was one of the most exciting players the U.S. has seen in a long time. He and Altidore were young, and while Altidore had strength and was great with his back to the goal, Davies brought speed to the U.S. attack.
Davies played with no fear and readily attacked the goal. It was amazing to see as his tenacity on the ball put the U.S. one up on Egypt in the group stages, and his speed gave him an assist that put the U.S. up two on world power Brazil in the tournament final. It gave U.S. fans hope.
What happened next was a nightmare for Davies. One night he broke curfew and was involved in a fatal car accident that he was lucky to survive. He would miss the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and he spent the next two years in rehabilitation from the injuries he suffered in the accident.
Now that he is back on the field in regular, high-level competition, people are waiting to see the Charlie Davies of old.
They're going to have to keep waiting.
Davies is not the player he used to be. Seriously -- watch him play. He doesn't possess the same fearless style of play he once had, and his stats prove it. While he has the third-most goals in MLS this season with seven, he sits at 92nd with shots taken at 15.
Some would say he is just better at scoring, converting a higher percentage of shots to goals. That might be true if it weren't for the little asterisk next to those seven goals. Four of them came on penalty kicks. That's the highest in MLS this season. What that means is he would rather take a freebie than at least try to create a goal for himself.
Charlie Davies, quite simply, is playing scared.
As the U.S. makes its biannual deep run into the Gold Cup, promising young talent is taking the field for the red, white and blue — players like Eric Lichaj, Alejandro Bedoya and 18-year-old striker Juan Agudelo. The now-22-year-old Altidore is there and scoring goals. Even the once-crowned prince of U.S. soccer, Freddy Adu, is playing for the U.S. But there is no Charlie Davies.
Maybe he's not scared. Maybe he knows his limits and is playing to his strengths. Or maybe he is not as mature as people want him to be. Maybe he learned nothing from his brush with death.
Either way, Charlie Davies is not the player he once was. And right now, it doesn't even seem like he wants to be.
Follow Andrew on Twitter at twitter.com/Andrew_J_Reeves