The rumor mill was in full tilt Tuesday with the news that national team member Charlie Davies was sent by his French club Sochaux to train with D.C. United in Florida, with a successful training leading to a year-long loan. Yesterday, the Black-and-Red confirmed Davies was in camp and was being given a fitness tryout to see if he is physically ready to receive playing time again. Assuming Davies is fit, United would have the striker they have sought this offseason and Davies would have a chance to rehabilitate his career.
The reaction not surprisingly has been mixed, with some opining that this is exactly what Davies needs to restart his career (and DCU their franchise) and others saying that this deal is not only not workable, but possibly a mistake. My thought is this deal is a win-win. Davies gets the chance to see exactly where he is in his rehabilitation and how far away he is from competing for a national team spot, if that is even possible. Sochaux gets to see if Davies, whom they have put on their bench once since the accident, is a potential addition for them or a valuable trade chip. And D.C. United and MLS have a familiar face for U.S. soccer fans in the nation’s capital.
But the focus of this post is not to analyze this from a personal angle, but from a league-wide angle, specifically does the Davies acquisition make D.C. United an MLS Cup contender. If you look at the circumstances, the answer looks to be “possibly yes”. This scenario would assume that not only is Davies close to his previous level of health, but that the Black-and-Red avoid the injury bug that infected them last year. These things of course are unknown and a major assumption, but they are not impossible.
DCU’s offseason has been a frantic remake of the club such that the team that finished last in goals scored in 2010 and close to last in goals allowed are bringing in a series of new faces in a variety of positions. The entire back line will be a mix of now-healthy players (Jed Zayner, Dejan Jackovic) and acquisitions (Rodrigo Braseca, Perry Kitchen) that will help relieve pressure off of now-healthy highly-rated academy product Bill Hamid in goal. The midfield is also vastly improved with the Dax McCarty trade and the continued emergence of MLS ROY Andy Najar. In fact, the roster looked set except for that elusive big-play striker. United had acquired Josh Wolff and Joseph Ngwenya, but neither has been a big scorer in their career and both look to be more complementary forwards. Now, with a potentially healthy Charlie Davies, DCU has that playmaker up front to score and take the pressure off Najar.
However, the names of the players in the previous paragraph are for the most part not likely to elicit shivers of expectation. After all, besides Najar and McCarty, none of the DCU starters can be considered currently elite or close-to-elite (maybe a healthy Santino Quaranta, but that’s a stretch). But the second factor in a potential D.C. United Cup run is the conference. Look at the 2011 Eastern Conference. Besides a loaded New York team, who is the second best team in the conference? Last year’s second best team is going through a total rebuild. Teams like Chicago and New England competed for playoff spots but both have glaring weaknesses. Toronto is talented but in flux with a totally new leadership team. Kansas City has a ton of talent and upside, but still have defensive holes to plug. Philadelphia is going in the right direction but still needs some more offense.
With a new ten team playoff structure, a middling club can make the playoffs and, depending on the structure, automatically have a chance at the MLS Cup. But if D.C. United turns out to be the second place Eastern Conference team, and the league continues to value conference finishing and give the #2 conference seed a bye, then the playoff schedule could fall out well for DCU. We saw this last year: Colorado, a very good but not one of the best teams gets a favorable playoff schedule and makes a run to the Cup. A high-finishing good team in 2011 can do the same thing, especially if they play in the weaker Eastern Conference.
So should we begin to add a fifth star to the DCU jerseys? Not by a long shot. This scenario is based on a lot of conjecture and assumption. But if Charlie Davies is healthy and on his way to recovery, then there is a path to success this season for United. They could enter that second tier of clubs in 2011, right behind the Galaxy/RedBulls/RSL types, and that might be enough for the team to make some noise in the playoffs.