16 months, 18 games…

…and 42 goals later, the United States has qualified for its 6th consecutive World Cup.

Impressive numbers for a nation long considered to be 3rd-world in the soccer community.

Unfortunately, the most important number for the US is 2.

In the past 48 hours, US Soccer has lost 2 unquestioned starters to injury – Charlie Davies and Oguchi Onyewu. The former is most certainly not going to South Africa, while the latter is facing a long, arduous rehab process to be ready in just 7-8 months time. Coming from personal experience with patellar-related surgery and recouperation, I find it hard to imagine a fully fit Onyewu in that time-frame.

It goes without saying that the injured players are key cogs in the red, white, and blue machine. The influence of each player is going to be sorely missed, and the loss may be too much for this American squad to overcome next year.

The loss of Charlie Davies is devastating to players and fans alike. Over the past 18 months, Davies has emerged as the rising star of American soccer. After his first year with Hammarby in Sweden, there were questions about Davies’ commitment to the game and to his own body. He was criticized for not eating well and not working hard enough to be in shape.

After a season-ending hat trick, though, things changed. Davies committed himself in the offseason and emerged on the other side as Hammarby’s top hit man. Davies started 25 games and scored 14 goals, prompting speculation of a move further up the European ladder. That move didn’t come immediately though, and Davies started the 2009 season on a tear, scoring 4 goals in 9 games for Hammarby. After receiving a 5-game suspension before the summer window, Davies was called into the United States squad for a trip to the Confederations Cup.

With speculation still mounting that Davies would make an eventual move, all eyes were turned to South Africa in hopes of seeing an American dream – a young strike partnership worthy of international football. While Davies seemed tailor-made to be Jozy Altidore’s partner up top, the duo weren’t given a chance until after the US sputtered through its opening 2 games.

In the 3rd game, though, Davies was given his chance – one that he would grab hold of and not let go. Suddenly, team USA had a striker of the likes they’d never seen before. Speed. Tenacity. Killer instinct. Davies was everything the American fan had been dreaming of since the debacle in Germany.

The impact of Davies’ inclusion was instant, as Davies scored his second goal in the decisive group game against Egypt, and die-hard American fans started to feel something new – hope.

Hope that an age-old striker problem was finally sold.

Hope that an American forward was poised to take Europe by storm.

Hope that a partnership was formed that would take the US to new heights in international soccer, not only over the next year, but well beyond into multiple world cups.

Hope…that was all taken away on Tuesday after a horrifying car accident.

In the tight-knit, family-like community that is American soccer, fans are gutted and crushed on a personal level. Every die-hard fan feels like Davies is their own brother or friend, even if he’s one they’ve never met. Hundreds, if not thousands, of fans refreshed their Twitter pages incessantly for hours, hoping and praying that their young hero would live through surgery, let alone play the beautiful game again. The lack of information only fueled the idle speculation, doing nothing to allay the fears of friends and fans alike. The details of Davies’ injuries came out late in the evening on Tuesday – our young legend-to-be wouldn’t be returning to the field anytime soon.

No longer are there visions of a lightning to Altidore’s thunder.

No more are the hopes of a young, speedy American striker becoming a coveted asset in Europe.

No hope of American success at the World Cup.

Yesterday, fans began the process of grieving Davies’ departure from the squad and attempting to re-group. While Davies was crucial and central to every American fan’s dream of World Cup glory, he was only one player out of eleven. Maybe his injury can serve as inspiration to the strikers who take up his role. Maybe this team can overcome one player’s absence.

Those notions lasted 83 minutes into last night’s game with Costa Rica, right up until the unthinkable happened – Oguchi Onyewu went down. The images were awful, as Onyewu immediately signaled for help and was quickly followed by the Costa Rican players signaling as well. Something was terribly wrong.

That something was Onyewu’s kneecap. It wasn’t there. ESPN showed the replay in super-slow-motion, but there is only a hole where Onyewu’s kneecap should have been. The diagnosis is a torn patellar tendon and the timetable is set at 3-4 months, putting Onyewu’s return hopefully sometime in March. But kneecap injuries aren’t quick or certain fixes like ACLs and MCLs, they take time to heal and more time to rehab. The most optimistic of fans are saying Onyewu will be back in plenty of time, but the realists and pessimists aren’t so sure.

In only 48 hours time, the United States team lost 2 irreplaceable starters only 8 months out from the World Cup.

The goal-scoring prodigy and the hulking enforcer.

16 months, 18 games, 42 goals…

…and 2 starters lost.


One Response

  1. Davies is out. It sucks and I feel for him. We just have to deal. Demps could move up top, or Cooper will be a decent replacement I think. I believe Gooch will be fit in time. This is his job, he will have to put as much effort into rehab as he would if he was playing, but he will be there in SA. That is a pretty good motivater.

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