Q&A: Being Charlie Davies
The Revs' striker opens up during a long conversation on his comeback, five years in the making.
Photo by David Silverman
Charlie Davies was so close to realizing his dream of the World Cup. He was only a few years out of Boston College and playing for the national team in 2009 before a late-night car accident killed a woman in the car he was a passenger in. The tragedy left Davies, now 28, scarred and with a long road back to the soccer field. He opens up in an exclusive conversation with The Improper on the toughest part of his recovery. Wearing a Muhammad Ali T-shirt and lunching at Alma Nove in Hingham, the kid who grew up in New Hampshire reflected on playing with the Revs, what his recent revival means, the best parts of living in Boston and much more.
Matt Martinelli: This past month you’ve been resurgent on the field. How does that feel for you?
Charlie Davies: It feels great to finally feel injury free, healthy and also fit. And then to be producing on the field at the same time is like bringing me back to where I was in the past. I’m taking it game by game. I think I’ve improved with each game, and I just hope it continues. It’s a great feeling to know that all the hard work is finally paying off.
What do you think has been the most important part of it?
I guess it’s been my mental strength with staying healthy. And just making sure that when I got the opportunity I took it. I wanted to make the most of it. I was so ready for the chance.
What did it feel like when they told you that you were starting for the first time a month ago?
It was an awesome feeling. To finally start, and then to score in my first home start. It was special.
Does your family get to go to the home games?
No, but they will this fall. They’re really looking forward to that because they haven’t seen me play yet with the Revolution.
Were you drawn back to the Revs because of your ties to the region: Growing up here, going to BC, having your wife here?
Yeah, I wanted to be back here. It was more attractive and easier for me to go through it because of the adjustment period that I would have to go through was much less. It was easier for me to come back, knowing that my wife and I had already bought a home here and that we’d live one mile from her parents. It was one of those moves that you feel comfortable making not just professionally, but for off the field as well. It’s been unbelievable to be back, and now I’m a part of helping out with the BC men’s soccer team. Getting able to meet up with and see so many people who I grew up with and went to school with has been fantastic.
How does the BC coaching on the side work, timing wise?
We get a lot of time off in the afternoons. We’re normally just busy from 8 am till noon. With that extra time, I thought it’d be great for me to get extra experience with coaching to see how I liked it. And knowing that I could really help out the kids at Boston College transitioning maybe into something professional and knowing I could try to get the best out of them in the college ranks. It’s been an awesome experience so far, and hopefully, in my first year with them, we can win something.
Do a lot of the guys on the team try coaching? I know A.J. Soares was working with Harvard.
That’s what kind of sparked my interest is A.J. told me he had a great time with Harvard, and so I figured BC would be great. And so the coach I had when I went to BC is still the coach. And he gave me a call and put in my head about coming to help out and coach the guys when I could. It was an easy decision for me. I feel like I’m back in the BC community, I get to go to football games, and so I’m excited.
You met your wife there. How’d you guys meet?
Christian theology class, in the first semester. We had to introduce ourselves in the class and say where we went to high school. And she said her name and where she went to high school. She went to Noble and Greenough School, which is a rival high school of mine. So that was my “in” to kind of introduce myself to her. It took me probably a month and then we started dating. It will be 10 years at the end of September.
Wow, so did she follow you when you were playing internationally?
I left after my BC season in junior year, and she stayed to finish school and graduate. Then she moved to Sweden to be with me.
What went into that decision to turn pro?
It was one of those bittersweet moments just because you’ve sort of prepared yourself to do everything you could to be a professional. But at the same time you’re coming from a boarding school where school is the priority and athletics are second. Your dream is kind of always to get a college degree. It was a tough decision because I felt like I always wanted to be the first person in my family to get a college degree. And at the same time, knowing that why you go to school is to prepare yourself for the future and set yourself up for your job. I knew that soccer was going to be my job and it was one of those moments and opportunities that I knew I couldn’t pass up. So I had to leave, and I had to tell my wife—well, girlfriend at the time—that I had to pursue my dream and see how far I could take it. It worked out in the end. It was the right decision, and hopefully now I can start taking a class here or there to put my foot in the door to start finishing up my degree.
What do you think it was last year that made it tough to break through? Was it coming to the Revs midseason?
Yeah, it was coming over midseason. And they also had in their minds that Juan Agudelo was that center guy, which is the position I’m playing now. And they wanted to play only one striker and they wanted to put me on the wing, which I had never played before in my career. Having to adjust to learn a new position and a new formation was pretty difficult. I never got into rhythm and never got settled. It was kind of what I expected, coming here so late and with the team on a good run to make the playoffs. So, I guess my main goal was to be settled and ready for the next season because I knew Juan was leaving. And I ended up getting injured for most of the preseason. I missed three quarters of the preseason, so that also made it extremely difficult because by the time I was catching up, guys were already fit and playing games. Then it becomes an issue of just catchup for the first part of the season. I came back and I did well in the first game of the season but my body wasn’t really prepared physically. And I kind of got injured again. It took me awhile to get over that as well. Finally, I got fit again, and I had to wait for my chance again. He gave it to me. And the rest was history after that.
Yeah, you guys needed a spark there. It’s been a streaky season.
Such a streaky season. The good thing is, as streaky as we’ve been, we’re still right in it. This Saturday is probably our biggest game that we’ve had in awhile. (Ed. Note: They won 3-0.) So, I think Jermaine (Jones) will play in the game, too. I don’t really think he’s even fit or ready yet because he’s been in vacation mode since the World Cup, but it’ll be interesting for sure.
Did you watch a lot of the World Cup?
Almost every game, and usually with teammates. My wife was pretty into it. We were able to watch almost every single game. If I wasn’t able to watch it live, I recorded it and watched it later.
Did you watch it in 2010 or was that tougher?
That was very difficult. It was probably one of the most difficult times in my whole life. But I was able to watch it and support them, but it was extremely difficult.
Do you still have the national team on your radar?
Yeah, for sure. I’ll never give up that desire to kind of come full circle. I feel like I’m on the right path. If I continue to improve and continue to produce then I’ll get the chance again. It’s exciting because I don’t think it’s possible for me to get complacent because of everything I’ve been through. I’m always trying to get better and working as hard as I can. And that’s probably been my problem is I’m always doing too much extra, I wouldn’t be able to recover and that’s when I’d get injured.
Is this the best you’ve felt since 2009?
Yes. Without a doubt.
Do you feel like it’s all one big, five-year comeback? Or has it been smaller steps?
I think it’s been all one big thing. There’s definitely been some victories along the way. It’s a lot of highs and a lot of lows. And it’s just me balancing the ups and downs. It’s been difficult at times, but I think I’ve finally managed to know how to get through it and continue to get better. I think I’m finally on the right path. I know my body and when to stop and when to go. I think I’ve finally mastered that part of preparation. It should be hopefully smooth sailing from now. Now it’s just a matter of me producing every game instead of me having to worry about when my body’s going to break down.
Was there a low point for you in all this?
I’ve had many low points, but the lowest was definitely the call I had from Bob Bradley right before the 2010 World Cup to tell me that he couldn’t take me to the camp before they made the cuts for the World Cup because he didn’t think I’d be ready. And he said, as painful as it was, that I had to keep going and keep working and that I’d be able to get back if I continued to work hard. That right there, having felt like you’d reached the ultimate goal, the thing you dreamed of as a kid. To finally participate, and have it really be the defining moment, and it was taken away from you. And knowing that everything you worked hard for, you’re not going to get what you hoped. That pain and sadness and depression kind of all hit me then. That was May 2010. It probably lasted a month—the depression. And then it was kind of like, I went to the Bahamas for a week and my wife was like, ‘You’ve had your time to sulk. It’s expected. You shouldn’t feel bad that you feel this way, but now it’s time to get back on the horse and keep going. You’ve made it this far and nobody ever thought that was even possible. Now you know you can get back. It’s just going to take time. It’s time to power through it, and we’re in it together.’ And as soon as I got back from the Bahamas, I was like, ‘OK, I’m ready to go back at it. It’s been a bumpy ride and it’s been a long road, but I think you know, good things come to those people who work hard for it, but I’ve been patient and I’ve definitely put in the work to have success. So I’m starting to see a little glimpse of it now. Hopefully the tide turns and things continue to be positive for me.
Where were you when you got that call?
I was in France, just in my apartment. It was kind of late. I remember kind of, as soon as I heard him call, and I heard his call, tears started coming down my eyes. I just knew where the conversation was headed. And I knew the inevitable pain that was coming. Tears started to flow, and my wife knew right away what the call was about. That was a real rough time.
Did you expect that or were you planning to go to camp?
I was planning to go to camp. I had hoped to just go. I probably didn’t think I was going to make it, but I hoped I’d have a chance to go in and show the guys that I’m working my way back. And I was hoping to put the camp in good spirits. And there’s also the little hope that if you’re in camp you can make the 23. Even if I’m the twenty-third guy picked. I really thought that I would be a part of that camp. That’s what hurt. There was a little bit of a shock involved.
How long were you in the hospital after the crash?
I was there about a month.
So was everything after that sort of at a quick pace as far as your recovery?
It felt extremely slow, but with each week I would do something that I couldn’t do before and it gave me that push to go through the next week to get through the tough times. Each week I would improve, and that’s how it would go throughout, up until May. I felt like I was always improving in something, but I knew I was far, far away. I was always improving in something, but I wasn’t anyway near where I was. Mentally I was checked out because I didn’t have the speed, I didn’t have the strength, the coordination was gone. The instincts I had were gone. I had to relearn how to do everything. I felt like I really had to learn to shoot and pass again. To run, to cut, everything that came to me naturally was not there. I was hesitant on everything I did.
Did living abroad make it tougher in the recovery?
Yeah, nobody spoke English, and I wasn’t great at French. It was extremely difficult. I felt like I wasn’t improving as fast I was in the States because I wasn’t doing soccer things yet. Once the ball came into play, it was like a crazy, crazy challenge. And it was something I hadn’t done and prepared myself physically for how tough it would be.
How was the experience living abroad overall?
It was an amazing experience. I’ve learned so much from it. You see all the different people, the different cultures, people speaking different languages, the different food. We traveled a ton. That was the best part, getting to travel and experience the different cultures and cities and the different foods and the history. I was so glad and thankful that I got a chance to do that. And I would never change a thing just because the experience was that good.
What was your favorite trip?
Rome. Rome just blew my mind. All the history and the people were awesome, the food was awesome. You’re going to the Colosseum, you’re going to the Vatican, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, all these never ending things to see. I was just like, this is paradise. This is—for me—the best city in the world. I loved Italy in general, but Rome was fantastic.
How long were you guys there?
We stayed there for four nights. I think we walked around the city one day for 10 hours.
Yeah, the food, you can just go in anywhere…
Yeah, and it’s just unbelievable.
And the wine …
Yup, for days.
Have you played with Jermaine before now?
No. I met him in 2010 when he started with the national team. Whenever they would go on trips, I would go to dinner with the guys. And we built up a pretty good relationship. Before he came here, he was texting me for a couple weeks about, ‘What’s the city like? How’s the city? Do you really like the city?’ Obviously I told him what the city’s like and where to go, what to see, what to do. I think it’s like that in any city. When you have someone who knows the city well and can guide you through the ins and outs, you can really appreciate the city. I feel like a lot of people don’t ever get to appreciate the South Shore, and obviously the Cape. And then you’ve got Boston. Like Teal (Bunbury) on my team had never been to the North End before. Last week he went and said, ‘This place is awesome.’ I said, ‘You’ve been here for this long and you’ve never been to the North End?’ It’s just getting them to experience different parts of the city. The North End is fantastic. I try to go there with my wife maybe once every two weeks.
Any particular spot?
Prezza has always been our favorite. We’ve tried a bunch of different spots in the past year, though. We’ve tried Nico, we’ve tried Mamma Maria. Trattoria di Monica. We tried the other Trattoria on Hanover. Umm…
They’re all Trattorias…
Yeah, and they’ve all been unbelievable. I still think Prezza is the best, but I want to say if you want homemade Italian, I probably wouldn’t choose Prezza since it’s a bit modern. For that, Mamma Maria was amazing.
Do you care to weigh in on the eternal Mike’s vs. Modern debate?
We just go to Mike’s all the time. Do you?
Well, there’s a place a couple blocks away called Bova’s that’s great.
Better than both? I gotta try it then.
Is the North End the neighborhood you always go to in Boston?
Well, we’re foodies, so we like to eat everywhere. The North End is a big part of it. The South End, we love to go to. We had our rehearsal dinner at Mistral, so we love Mistral. The Butcher Shop. We love meats and cheeses, and they have a great charcuterie board and great wine there. Sorellina is very good. We love the Seaport. Strega and Empire in the Seaport. Legal’s if you want to go on the rooftop is nice. We love Indian food, so our closest one in Quincy is unbelievable, Punjab Café, but if we’re ever in the city we eat at one on Newbury. It’s great because we try different restaurants, but we like our favorites. Oh, and we love Barcelona in Brookline. We ate there Monday and Tuesday night this week. I like Barcelona because they have more meat plates and I feel like the other ones don’t fill me up enough.
What else do you do on offdays, outside of soccer?
The beach is a big thing. If we have a day off, it’s probably guaranteed we’re going to Old Silver Beach in North Falmouth because my wife’s parents have a house there. It’s literally a five-minute bike ride to the beach. That’s probably the biggest thing that we do. Otherwise, we’ll go to bowling at Jillian’s. Usually we play (Revs) games on Saturday, and so Sunday and Monday are free. On Sunday we try to get as many guys as we can for brunch. And we’ve gone recently to Toast in Hull. It’s a fantastic breakfast place. Unbelievable. Open till 2 pm. And usually we’ll take the boat in from there and we’ll go to Jillian’s to bowl.
Who is the best bowler on the team?
I want to say I am. Usually it’s competitive, but usually I end up with the best score.
What do you usually score?
Usually 175, at least 160 and up. I’ve bowled a 240 before.
Are you able to catch movies and watch TV?
We have a movie theater right here. We’ll walk over. It’s $5 Tuesdays. It’s really convenient. We usually see every movie that comes out. TV shows, we’re big into Ray Donovan and Homeland.
Who do you hang with mostly on the team?
Lee (Nguyen) and Teal (Bunbury).
Lee’s had a good season, too.
He’s had a fantastic season. He’s really done well. I think he’s exceeded his own expectations.
The wave of popularity hit this year with the World Cup. Do you think it will level off?
No, I think it’s still progressing. I think the league speaks for itself. The revenue that the league is making, the TV rights. And the new teams. Vegas just put up stadium plans for a Las Vegas team and it looked unbelievable. There’s two new teams next year. New York City FC and they partnered with the New York Yankees and Manchester United so that’s going to be a fantastic team, and going to New York City twice is awesome; and then Orlando, which will have Kaka from Brazil. That will be an awesome team to play against. Atlanta the following year, and Miami is supposed to be in that same timeframe with David Beckham being the owner. And I guess there’s a couple spots up for grabs. I heard the Minnesota Vikings are trying to put a team in their dome, and Vegas is making a strong case for a team. I can’t imagine having to play a team in Vegas with 110-degree heat at 2 pm.
It would have to be a dome, right?
Yeah, and we’ll see how the players can last a full year in Vegas. Make sure they’re not broke and living in the stadium.
What do you think the tipping point for the MLS was?
I think when they got David Beckham that was kind of catalyst that got people thinking: This team is for real. They’re really trying to do it. And soccer is the most played youth sport in America. So I think as time goes on, as these kids grow up, they’ll start to understand the game. More people are starting to follow the teams from England and Spain, so more people are understanding the game of soccer more. Where as when I was a kid people were like ‘what’s offsides?’ Or they’re calling you ‘soccer buddy’ because nobody else plays soccer. Literally nobody played soccer growing up in Manchester, New Hampshire, so I had to play Pop Warner football and then that justified me playing soccer with my friends. They would say, ‘Oh, he’s good at Pop Warner football, so I can’t really talk trash to him.’ So I tried to play every other sport. I wrestled as well. Now, the popular thing to do is play soccer. With these MLS academies, where kids can play, people are starting to see how cool soccer is, and with the culture and what the World Cup means, I think it’s really picking up and catching on. I think it’s only going to continue to blow up.
Is there anything they could do to grow the game more?
Not really. I think they’ve done a great job. I’m thinking back to when I first started to watch the Revolution in the mid-90s and they had these five-second shootouts. You could run up and score if the game was tied. You had to start from 35 yards and you had the ball. And you had a clock to score in 5 seconds. And that was how they thought they could get the American public interested in the games. So it’s come a long way.
Did you used to go to any of the Revs games?
Oh yeah, I loved watching the Revolution. I was a fan. It was surreal to join them. It’s crazy to be scoring goals in Gillette Stadium.
Are you seeing an uptick in crowds and enthusiasm?
Yeah, I think the crowds have been great, but the stadium is just too big for our team. You get 20,000 to 25,000 people to a game, and that’s a great crowd. But in a 75,000-seat stadium it looks empty. It kind of takes away the atmosphere and the environment. If you had a 30,000-seat stadium or even 20,000 seats, and you could enclose it like a European stadium, you would keep the sound inside. That builds the best atmosphere, the best environment for the games. I think the Krafts are working real hard to get us a soccer-specific stadium because they know what a difference it can make. But in the meantime it’s still been good to be there. I love the stadium. It’s just lacking that base you’d get from other fans like in Kansas City because the stadium is so small. Or Portland. Seattle has a football stadium, but they fill it.
So is Gillette busier with the Patriots around?
Yeah. I enjoy it. I like seeing the guys walk around because I’ve always been a Patriots’ fan. For me it’s cool every time you see Tom Brady walking around the stadium.
Do you interact with any of them at all?
Not really. A couple of the guys on the team are friends with some of the guys. If I go to Cafeteria on Newbury, I know the manager there. He’s got a good group of friends within the Boston professional teams, but I’m not close with any of the guys from any of the other pro teams.
Are you the player Jermaine knows the best on the team?
Yeah. I’m taking him out to dinner tonight, I think to Del Frisco’s. I gotta head to a massage after this.
In Quincy. This place changed my life. It’s called Thai Health Spa. Lee’s the one who kind of introduced me to it. And they walk on your back and dig their heels in your pressure points. They crawl on your back with their knees and they full on go at these spots. They usually hit every trigger point that’s been bothering me. Usually it’s my lower back and my hamstrings. They just kill it. It makes the biggest difference for me.
When did you start going there?
About a month ago. (Laughs.)
Now we know your secret.
Ha. That’s been a thing we do every week now. It’s definitely helped a ton. I really feel a big difference after going there.
What was it like the first time when they’re walking on you.
It was weird. They have a little bar on the ceiling, and she was on it and digging her feet. She was cracking my back with her toes. She was adjusting my back like a chiropractor. I was like, ‘Oh, this is weirdest thing I’ve ever done in my life.’ And then it was a crack. And then the other side, ‘Crack.’ And I was like, ‘What the hell?’ But after I left there I was like, this is the most relaxed I’ve been in a long time. I felt really loose and not tight anymore. Just dehydrated and had to drink a ton of water after it. There’s points where I’m trying not to tense up since it’s a good amount of pain, but I guess it’s the good pain—if there is a good pain.
Is it just Lee and you who go there? You gotta get the whole team going.
I’ll eventually transition into getting one guy in and another guy in. I’m not sure how other guys might like it.
What are you thinking post-soccer career?
Well, I could see myself being a commentator. Or being involved in TV somehow. I see myself being involved in coaching, too. I've got the year at BC and I'll see how I like it. Maybe I want to coach professionally. Living here and coaching at Boston College is pretty ideal. That'd be a fantastic option. It's tough to see because it's close, but it's still not that close. I'm nowhere near being able to think about it. I'm confident I'll be able to transition into anything. I'm like a people person, I love talking and helping people out, so I think my skillset will help me with most jobs. I'm not nervous about it, and I'll welcome it when it does come.