Brad Davis stepped off a plane and went straight to work, aiming to turn a tough week with his country into a triumphant one with his club when the Dynamo host the New York Red Bulls on Friday night (7:30 p.m. CT; TICKETS).
The Dynamo captain was on the bench in Salvador, Brazil on Tuesday as the U.S. lost 2-1 to Belgium after extra time in their round-of-16 clash. But the sudden end of Davis’s World Cup means a swift return to MLS action and the midfielder is available for selection against New York, having arrived back in Houston at 5 a.m. on Thursday.
Just five hours later, Davis was training with teammates and meeting the media at Houston Sports Park, discussing one of the greatest experiences of his life and stressing his readiness to help the Dynamo turn around their form in the second half of the season.
Taking part in his first World Cup at the age of 32, Davis started in the Americans’ final group game against Germany. “One of the most tiring months emotionally, physically, mentally, but worth every minute of it, every step of it, every ounce of pain and sweat, it was all worth it. It truly was an honor to be there and to represent the U.S.,” he told reporters.
“The guys have been unbelievably supportive throughout this entire time. Wishing me the best, staying in contact and following. It was just great to get back and see everybody and say thank you. Obviously everybody wanted to know how it really was. That’s the first question: was it everything you expected?
“To be totally honest some of it you can’t put into words. You have to be there to experience it. It’s that special, it really was. It’s just one of those things you actually have to be in the midst of it, you have to feel the emotions, the ups and downs of it in those moments to be able to really get a feel for it.”
There was disappointment for Davis when his family missed the chance to see him play Germany in person. Severe flooding in Recife meant they were stuck on a bus and had to watch the game on a smartphone. But it was still a wonderful day for the six-time MLS All-Star.
“I got to start in a World Cup game, that was pretty special. To be totally honest with you all, the most special moment was being able to walk out on the field and be with a group of guys and sing the national anthem. It still gives me chills thinking about it,” he said.
Plenty of talk stateside centered on the huge crowds cheering on the U.S. in bars and at watch parties, as well as the extensive mainstream media coverage of the tournament. Davis said that some of that excitement filtered through to Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad and the support in the host country was also uplifting.
“We were kind of in the bubble in Brazil but all we could keep hearing about was this buzz going around the United States and all the support from back home. We could watch a little bit of it, see a little bit of it but we couldn’t necessarily feel it all. It was pretty amazing, the support,” he said.
“As the tournament went on we really got support throughout Brazil. Everywhere we went we had our supporters, our family, the American Outlaws, but throughout the rest of the stadium you could definitely see Brazil shirts, yellow jerseys all supporting us. We definitely didn’t expect that so that was definitely welcoming for us, when you’re out on the field and you don’t just have your country cheering for you but the Brazilian country as well.”
Davis provided a goal or an assist in each of his past six Dynamo games. The team has won one and lost five of six MLS fixtures without him. “I put pressure on myself, honestly, all the time. I know the fans want to win, we want to win, it’s been a little bit of a rough patch. I’m a piece of the puzzle, I’m not the whole puzzle. We’ve had a lot of guys out with different injuries and things like that who haven’t been able to be a part of the group. I’m here, I’m excited to be here, I’m looking forward to playing,” he said.
For Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear, the returns of Boniek García and Ricardo Clark last Sunday and of Davis this week are good news as the roster gets deeper and the team looks to rediscover the winning habit. “It doesn’t mean, hey, now that the band’s back together we’re going to steamroll everybody. That’s not the case, it’s never been the case in MLS for any team,” he said.
“All I’m saying is that we have these guys back, Boniek showed some good moments last week, Brad’s back, he’ll show some good moments [against New York]. I think it just makes us a better team and we’ll see how it goes.”
Goalkeeper Tally Hall said that seeing Boniek and Davis again this week has prompted conflicting emotions. “They’re our best players and of course we welcome them back on the field and we’re just so happy for them. We all wish they’d still be there in the tournament but the simple fact is, heartbreakingly enough they’re back here and we couldn’t be happier,” he said.
“They’re a boost to our squad, no question about that and I think they bring some of that joy that is the World Cup. We all feel blessed that we got to watch it on TV and it’s like, they were on the field, they played in games!… They’re not only bringing that level of confidence, their skill, their expertise, I think they’re bringing a bit of joy back to the game and when work isn’t going great it’s nice to have a bit of joy back in the team.”
Hall cautioned that Davis’s return will only be a boon to the Dynamo if the other players respond by stepping up their own performances and working in unison to beat a dangerous New York side.
“It wouldn’t be the first time that Brad’s brought this team out of a difficult run. But no, Brad can’t be the only guy to step on the field and say ‘hey, I got this’. It is and always has been a team sport and we need eleven guys on the field working as one and playing to the best of their abilities,” he said.
Davis wants to seize the moment and keep the bandwagon rolling, believing that thanks to the attention and excitement generated by the World Cup, much more than league points are at stake when MLS teams take the field in the coming weeks.
“I think the national team gained a lot of respect at this World Cup. I think soccer in general in America gained a lot of respect. The buzz that we heard that’s going around now, I think it’s definitely something here to stay and we’re in a moment right now where I think it could be very pivotal for what’s to come for MLS and soccer in general in the States,” he said.
“Some top teams went home before we did so I think that says a lot. I think the spirit that we saw was obviously the American spirit, the American fight that we all have. But also, the talent that we’re able to put out on the field now: it’s young, it’s growing and I think you’re going to see something pretty darn special come this next cycle.”
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com and HoustonDashSoccer.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London and reporter for SI.com, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian.