CHARLESTON, S.C. — Fourteen months ago, Brad Davis figured his U.S. national team career was finished. On the wrong side of 30 and with just five caps to his name, he couldn't be blamed for the pessimistic conclusion. Frankly, few would've disagreed.
Then shortly after ringing in 2013, while he was back home in Missouri visiting family, Davis received an email from U.S. Soccer. Jurgen Klinsmann had selected him for the national team's January camp.
Once the news sunk in, the Houston Dynamo midfielder relished the honor. He promptly shared the email with his wife, Heather, and began to wrap his mind around the opportunity. New coach, new chance. But before any of that, one thought crossed Davis' mind.
|ON THE FRINGE
|With the World Cup approaching, Goal's Thomas Floyd sat down in Charleston, S.C., with a trio of U.S. national team veterans hoping to book tickets to Brazil. In the first interview, new D.C. United striker Eddie Johnson discussed his latest career reinvention. And in the second installment, Brad Evans of the Seattle Sounders spoke about his abrupt emergence as the USA's starting right back.|
Such was his mindset. Few players in MLS have been as consistently productive as Davis, who compiled at least four goals and 12 assists every season from 2009 to 2012. Yet nearly three years had passed since Davis last suited up for the USA in early 2010 under Bob Bradley.
"Brad gets a little bit overlooked, maybe underrated," Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear said. "He's been a good soccer player for many, many years. He's put up some good numbers and we all know what he can do with the ball on his left foot, so I don't get surprised by him. I think some people do, but they just haven't watched him over the years."
With an up-close seat to observe Davis that January, Klinsmann liked what he saw. A spot for Davis on the February roster to open World Cup qualifying followed. So did call-ups for qualifiers in March, June, September and October.
After compiling seven caps last year while emerging as a viable option on the left flank, Davis started the Americans' 2-0 win against South Korea on Feb. 1 to kick off 2014. With the World Cup three months away, the 32-year-old finds himself on the fringe of soccer's marquee event for the first time — and probably the last.
While Davis is aware of the stakes, he's not focusing on them. In his words, it's best to "put that stuff in the back of your mind and just go out and play."
"Yes, obviously it is a World Cup year. Yeah, there is a little bit more pressure to be playing at a high level, to stay consistent," Davis told Goal USA last week from the Carolina Challenge Cup preseason tournament. "But the more you worry about 'I have to make this play for the World Cup or do this because of the World Cup,' the more you're going to struggle."
Within the Houston locker room, the international breakthrough seemed long overdue. Those around Davis hail his admirable habits. The off-the-field professionalism. The on-the-field class. The daily determination.
"He has a never-die attitude," Dynamo left back Corey Ashe said. "He's just constantly plugging away, constantly trying to get better, putting the work in after practice, always trying to perfect his game — and it's paying off."
For a U.S. squad lacking true wingers and left-footed personnel, Davis fills a need. His status as a set-piece specialist also makes him an intriguing change of pace.
Although Davis was a constant presence for the Americans last year, his appearances in qualifying added up to just 74 minutes. Whether Davis punches a ticket to Brazil this summer will largely depend on his form with the Dynamo once the MLS season opens Saturday. But Davis doesn't feel his national team legacy hinges on adding "World Cup veteran" to his resume.
"If I'm not one of the 23 guys to go to Brazil, even though I really think I have a great shot of going there, I will always consider myself a part of this team," Davis said. "I was a part of this group that qualified for the World Cup."
It oddly was in the final qualifier in October — once the USA had already clinched passage — that Davis made his most notable contribution to the global soccer scene. By serving up the cross that Graham Zusi nodded home against Panama, Davis played a crucial part in ousting the Panamanians and keeping rival Mexico alive.
Although Davis has received some attention from El Tri supporters for his role in the goal, it doesn't rival the hype that has surrounded the man now known as "San Zusi." As Davis said with a knowing smirk, "Nobody's going to ask about the old man — it's all about the young, new Graham Zusi."
And that's OK with Davis. He knows it's up to others to carry the U.S. national team torch. On the back end of a quietly prolific career, he's just happy to help spark the flame.
"I'm at a point now in my career, to be totally honest, where I'm not the guy who's going out there trying to necessarily make my mark on U.S. Soccer," Davis said. "I'm a guy going out there that loves the U.S., loves soccer, loves my country and thought my career was over.
"Fortunately I kept plugging along, taking care of myself and I got another opportunity. I'm just enjoying the moment."
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