WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Robbie Rogers didn't feel right. When the jerseys were handed out before Wednesday night's World Cup qualifying match against Costa Rica, he drew No. 9.
"We were talking about it on bus about what number I might get, and Benny Feilhaber said, 'You're going to get the number 9,'" Rogers said. "And I said, 'Well, I hope not.'"
For the most of the past year, that number has belonged to Charlie Davies, the exciting, personable striker who injected life into the U.S. attack. Now Davies lay in a hospital bed in Washington, his body broken in a devastating car accident that claimed the life of a fellow passenger two nights before. Davies suffered a broken tibia and femur in his right leg as well as a broken left elbow, facial fractures and a lacerated bladder. He is expected to miss the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Rogers finally accepted the jersey, and all it implied. "I thought about it a little bit -- it gave me a little more motivation," Rogers said. "Of course, I wanted to perform well for the team and myself and my family and my country. But Charlie was in the back of my mind."
And at the end of a tumultuous, emotional and unforgettable match, Rogers was jumping around the RFK Stadium field waving the shirt -- his shirt, Davies' shirt -- like a banner, one fit for a parade full of American flags. "It was a little tribute to him," Rogers said, "and his number."
|U.S. national team blog|
Get exclusive insight into the U.S. national team and its players as they prepare for South Africa. National team blog
Rogers, a midfielder who came on in the 69th minute, was part of a frenzied and furious U.S. comeback that gave the Yanks a 2-2 draw and first place in their World Cup qualifying group. He and the rest of the Americans, who had already qualified, stormed back from a 2-0 deficit, playing the last 12 minutes of the match with 10 men after defender Oguchi Onyewu suffered a torn patellar tendon and the U.S. had used up its subs (Onyewu probably will miss 3-4 months).
Rogers' play, and his postgame celebration, was just one of many tributes to Davies, both on the field and in the stands. For a group that hesitates to open up about its inner workings or about its feelings, those tributes spoke loud and clear. They missed Davies, but they'd carry on, because that's what they do.
Davies' road roommate, midfielder Stuart Holden, earlier in the day announced on his Twitter account one impromptu campaign for his friend, who underwent five hours of surgery Tuesday after sustaining broken bones in his leg and elbow, plus injuries to his bladder and spleen. Holden asked fans to send their thoughts and get-well wishes to Davies' e-mail address, promising to have them printed out and sent to Davies' hospital room.
The response was overwhelming. "I know it's a lot," Holden said. "I think they ran out of printer paper."
At the same time, U.S. fans stood and cheered in the game's ninth minute, holding up No. 9 signs in Davies' honor. "They had a corner kick, and the fans were singing songs for No. 9, and there were smoke bombs in the air," Holden said, "and to see that kind of support for my best friend, and to see that so many people care, and are wishing him well, it was obviously great. Hopefully he can watch a replay of that on TV once he comes around, and it'll give him a lot of confidence going forward."
|Don't miss a moment of the latest U.S. soccer and MLS coverage from around the world. Follow us on Twitter and stay informed. Join|
If Conor Casey's clear shot at the goal, off a perfect feed from Jozy Altidore, had not sailed wide of the net as the running clock hit exactly 9 minutes, they might have had to end the match right there. The U.S. fans might have torn down the old ballyard.
But Casey's miss was the start of a long, frustrating spell for the overeager Americans. Altidore missed shots. Landon Donovan missed shots. Michael Bradley, Carlos Bocanegra and Rogers missed shots. And Costa Rica's Bryan Ruiz was deadly, scoring two first-class goals to put his team up 2-0 by the 24th minute.
"I'll be the first one to tell you I had three good chances," Altidore said. "I was disgusted with myself. I have to admit, especially on the last one, I got too excited, my eyes got too big."
|More World Cup coverage|
For more features, analysis, predictions and opinion about the World Cup, drop by our special U.S. index page.
The U.S. regrouped, though, and shortly after Rogers' entry, Bradley found the range with a gritty rebound goal off a saved Donovan strike. With the match 2-1 in the 74th minute, the Americans kept pressing, even after Onyewu's injury, turning the end of the match into a rugged, ragged free-for-all.
"It was crazy," Rogers said. "Sometimes that works out in your favor, because when a team can't gain control of the game, they can't stay organized, and you never know what's going to happen. Even though we were a man down, we were still creating chances."
And when Rogers sent a perfect left-footed corner into the box five minutes into extra time, and Jonathan Bornstein ran onto it and headed it in for the improbable tying goal, all that craziness erupted into celebration, with Bornstein at the bottom of a joyous dogpile.
"I was right on top of Jonny," Rogers said. "I was one of the people who tackled him. It was pretty cool, pretty exciting. It's something I'll remember the rest of my life."
He won't be alone.
Luke Cyphers is a senior writer for ESPN The Mag.