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Jan 22, 2009

Davies gets his chance to strut his stuff

Prior to leaving for training camp with the U.S. men's national team, Charlie Davies received a bit of good-natured ribbing from his club teammates at Swedish side Hammarby. The U.S. is set to face Sweden this Saturday at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., and Davies' colleagues let him know exactly how they think the game will turn out. "They're definitely saying that we don't have what it takes to beat them this year," an amused Davies said. "We beat them 2-0 last year, and they've reassured me that won't be the case this time. But I'm definitely looking forward to scoring some goals and helping my team win." Given Davies' progress over the past year, it wouldn't be wise to bet against him. Not only did the Manchester, N.H., native enjoy a breakout season with Hammarby, scoring 14 goals, but his performances for both the U.S. Olympic and full national teams saw Davies make the most of his limited minutes. Coming on as a substitute in the Americans' final Olympic match, against Nigeria, Davies nearly rescued his team's bid to reach the medal round with a thumping header that struck the crossbar. The Boston College product went one better in a World Cup qualifier against Trinidad and Tobago, netting an equalizer in what eventually would be a 2-1 defeat. Such performances have raised the question of why Davies hasn't gotten more opportunities. That's not to say Davies should be starting ahead of Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey, but his play for both club and country has outshone that of some other, more celebrated members of the U.S. player pool.

U.S. men's schedule
U.S. vs. Sweden
Saturday
Home Depot Center; Carson, Calif.
8:30 p.m. ET

U.S. vs. Mexico
Feb. 11
Columbus Crew Stadium; Columbus, Ohio
7 p.m. ET, ESPN2 HD

But it now looks likely that Davies will get his chance Saturday, and while greater expectations will accompany his appearance in the lineup, Davies says he is ready to embrace that increased pressure. "I feel the same as I've always felt," Davies said. "But I'm putting more on my shoulders because I feel I've done very well recently, and I'm trying to build on that. I'm trying to make a good impression on not only the coaches, but the players, and show them that I can really help the team when I get on the field." It wasn't that long ago that Davies would have crumbled under the weight of those hopes. His initial season in Sweden was nothing short of a nightmare, with Davies failing to score a league goal until the last game of the season. But an improved work ethic in 2008 saw the U.S. forward not only sharpen his game, but also gain the trust of his club teammates. "I think in the beginning, my club teammates weren't really sure [about me] and would look to make the safe pass, instead of taking that risk and seeing where it gets us," Davies said. A similar development is now taking shape with the U.S. team, although the different styles between his club and the national side have added a layer of complexity to the process. At Hammarby, the approach is to find ways to exploit Davies' searing pace, especially on the counterattack. Not so with the Yanks, under manager Bob Bradley. "I've got two different jobs when I play at Hammarby and then with the U.S. team," Davies said. "With the national team, I have to be more of a threat defensively, helping the team out, as well as being able to hold the ball up and battle with defenders. Bob likes forwards who can tackle and really prove to the team that you're willing to fight for those 50-50 balls." Given Davies' speed and finishing ability, some might argue such tasks are a waste of his talents. But the reality is that such dirty work is a staple of the international game, and Davies is happy to add such traits to his ever-growing skill set. "It's different, but every day I'm adjusting to it," Davies said of his newfound duties. "It's making me a better player." Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes for Center Line soccer and can be reached at eljefe1@yahoo.com.

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