Thursday, February 3, 2005
Déjà vu for Davis
It was like déjà vu all over again for Brad Davis.Wake up, eat breakfast, workout, check out how the MLS SuperDraft is going and see who your new teammates are going to be and then - when you least expect it -- get that phone call, saying you've been traded.In 2003, he got word before the draft that he might be dealt, even after coming off a first season that saw him earn Rookie of the Year finalist honors. Early on that day, he was told he was off to Dallas, since the MetroStars traded him for the fourth pick in the SuperDraft that ended up being Mike Magee.Three weeks ago, Davis experienced similar feelings of bewilderment when he was told he was being shipped to San Jose as part of a blockbuster deal where he and Richard Mulrooney were the key parts in a multi-player trade.All of a sudden, he found himself packing his bags again for the second time in his three-year career."They told me in Dallas that they had no expectation of trading me," said the 23-year-old midfielder from his hotel room in San Jose. "Draft day comes along and I get that same call again saying I'm traded. It just proves that no matter how much you get told you're safe or no matter who you are, that you have a chance to be moved."For the record, FC Dallas didn't want to give up on its young player. After all, this was a kid who came in during his first season with the club and led them in scoring, netting six goals and five assists in 2003. Last year, his scoring totals were down (2 goals and 2 assists), but he was a rock for head coach Colin Clarke, as he led the team in games played (29) and acted as a fine complement to Ronnie O'Brien on the opposite side of the field.Before leaving FC Dallas to take the head coaching job at the University of Illinois at Chicago, John Trask said that Davis was simply the deal-breaker in this trade. Either San Jose was going to get Davis or they weren't going to trade Mulrooney down South."We didn't want to lose Brad," said Trask, an assistant coach with the team last year. "But it was the only way to get it done."Trask likened the trade to one he saw happen firsthand when he was Ray Hudson's assistant with D.C. United."It was similar to when we traded Justin Mapp - a very good young player - to Chicago for Dema (Kovalenko)," he said. "Everyone criticized it because Justin had talent and was just coming into his own, but we wanted a veteran player."For the staff at FC Dallas, Mulrooney was the type of player that they would have dealt practically anyone to get. If it meant taking a gamble by trading Davis, along with the fourth overall selection of this year's Draft and an allocation, so be it.While the Earthquakes wouldn't have even thought of drafting a proven winner and a leader like Mulrooney unless he asked for it, (which he did in order to be closer to his family), Dominic Kinnear said he was ecstatic to be getting a quality young player in return like Davis. "To give up a very good player, we obviously needed quality in return and it had to be someone who could come right in and start," said Kinnear, entering his second year as the side's head coach after acting as Frank Yallop's top assistant for several years. "Brad Davis, for me, is one of the best young players in the league. What I like about him is that he's got a good left foot, he serves a ball very well, and he's strong in set pieces, which is a big part of our game."Kinnear has holes at the left midfielder spot with Ramiro Corrales no longer in town, and at attacking midfielder with Landon Donovan gone. He's starting this preseason with a very open mind as to where Davis can play on the field. While he's primarily been used as a left-sided midfielder during his three seasons in the league, Davis has spent time with the Under-23 National Team as an attacking midfielder and is seemingly at an age where he's now experienced enough to handle the role as a playmaker."I think he can play both," said Kinnear. "We have a need on the left, but I've also seen him do well in the middle of the field."Davis said the two haven't talked about where he'll play yet."I don't believe they have another left-sided player at the moment, so I'm guessing that'll be a spot I'm put in. I'm not sure yet."Since Kinnear brought in both Ricardo Clark via a trade with the MetroStars and Danny O'Rourke through the draft with the fourth overall pick, he's helped add depth to the midfield to make up for the loss of Mulrooney and Ronnie Ekelund. Yet, both of those players are more in the holding, defensive type of mold than someone like Davis, who is dangerous from anywhere within 30 yards with his left foot and appears to be the best player on the current roster suited to take over Donovan's old position.Not exactly big shoes to fill or anything, right?"There's pressure, no doubt," admitted Davis. "It's a great challenge. Landon was the best player in this league, and he's the best player we have in American right now. You aspire to be like that. I have respect for Landon and know it'll be hard to take his place, but it's also a challenge that'll make me work that much harder. I feel I'm capable of doing that and am up to the challenge."I feel I have to prove myself to the people in San Jose, and one of the ways of doing that is by going out there and scoring goals and helping this team win."Win. That's the operative word here. Having won two MLS Cup titles in four years, the Earthquakes know a little something about what it takes as far as getting it done.Brad Davis, on the other hand, knows nothing about this. Each and every November, he's sat home and watched the playoffs on the TV. After three seasons of never having reached the playoffs, he's sick of missing out. That's one of the reasons that has made being traded not such a bad thing after all."It weighs heavily on me," said Davis. "I haven't made the playoffs yet. You want to win a championship, so to not even make the playoffs makes it so frustrating, without a doubt. Watching San Jose play over the years you could tell they worked well together and you saw that they always seemed to play the same starting lineup each time. In Dallas, we were always flip-flopping players and positions, trying to find the right connection, and there was never really a core there. That's something San Jose has always had."That's one of the reasons that Earthquake defender Craig Waibel called Davis as soon as he flew out to San Jose and invited him to dinner with a few of the players. He knew that with the loss of Mulrooney, Donovan, Corrales, Ekelund and Jeff Agoos (traded to the MetroStars), the solid foundation of team chemistry that has existed in the locker room had to be rebuilt. Waibel recognized that a standout player like Davis had to be a big part of it from Day One.When you've only been out there a few days, haven't found a place to live yet and are waiting for your clothes and possessions to be shipped to you, that's exactly what you need. Davis said he already feels welcome, and has been impressed with everything about his new club."I had only ever heard great things about Dominic and the staff," he said. "Everyone in the league respects those guys. And, so far, you can see just why. It's been fun in training, and everyone just has a nice way about them. What helps me is knowing that I'm a player they especially wanted. They did everything to get me here."That already makes me want to come and play hard for them every day and prove myself all over again."If Davis does just that and helps the Earthquakes get back to the Western Conference final even after losing the core of their team, he certainly won't have any reason to cringe and shut off his cell phone come draft day next January.Marc Connolly covers soccer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.