Charlie Davies Takes a Dive

Sunday, June 19, 2011 | View Comments

- Jason Davis

Charlie Davies took a dive last night, and the referee bought it. It wasn't pretty, but not everyone agrees that it wasn't right. Charlie either shamed himself or saved a point for this club, depending on one's view point. I bet you can guess which group of fans make up the majority of those ascribing to the latter.

Beyond the big picture questions - whether diving is "part of the game", if players aren't diving, are they're not trying (to paraphrase the famous quip), and what to do about it if it is a problem that needs fixing - the fact that it was Charlie Davies prompts a whole host of uniquely interesting thoughts.

Running through the American fan base is a sense that "Yanks don't dive." Nike has played it up to sell their gear, adding to the myth and reinforcing the notion that American players are intrinsically more "honest" than others. The myth falls right in line with the reputation of the USMNT as "triers." They might not be the most technically gifted or naturally talented side, but they'll always give their all. And they won't cheat while doing it.

That's not universally true, of course, no matter what we want to believe about our boys. Americans do dive. Americans do look for an advantage when one is to be gained. Simulation is such an ingrained part of the sport - perhaps more so in Europe when much of the team plays their club soccer, but it's here too - that it would be ridiculous to never expect them to fall a little easy or play up a challenge to try and coax a yellow. It's not that Americans never dive, but it might be that they do it less often than certain familiar Latin American nations and in a slightly less obvious manner. Generally speaking, Americans don't play the same games countries south of the Rio Grande are prone to playing. Certainly not in the realm of time-wasting.

Which brings us to Charlie.

If diving is just "part of the game" and it's up to the referees to suss out which fall in the box is real and which is dramatics, then Charlie should be lauded for doing his part to help his team win. Charlie's job is to create goals, and he certainly did that. Whether you view it as "cheating" probably depends on your allegiances and how much of modern soccer's theatrics you're willing to forgive.

Would the reaction to Charlie's performance in Utah be so strong if he wasn't A) American and B) the feel-good story of the soccer century? Probably not. Though this wasn't Charlie's first leap off the springboard since arriving in MLS, it appeared to be the most egregious. There was no contact with Chris Wingert when Davies began dip his head and fall over, and the replay angles show that fact perfectly. Charlie's face afterward, when being congratulated by his teammates, can only be called "sheepish." Davies knew what he did, and he was somewhat guilty about having done it.

The goodwill Charlie earned as the amazing comeback story doesn't help him with fan reaction. So many of use have built Davies up into something more than just a soccer player. He's supposed to be, for lack of a better word, "good", the epitome of a man with a second chance doing right by the game he almost lost and the fans that supported him the whole way through. In a way, the feelings we have over Charlie diving so blatantly are on par with the disappointment we felt when he had a part in a troubling speeding incident in France.

We believed in you, Charlie, and this is how you repay us?

Double the disgust because Charlie is American, and Americans aren't supposed to do things like that. Again, the reputation is not totally deserved, but it persists nonetheless. We get a little uncomfortable when a Yank - whom many hope to see back in the USMNT picture in the very near future as the culmination of his amazing comeback - throws it in our face that not all of our players follows the "work hard, don't dive" creedo professed as the first American soccer commandment.

There's no distinctive American style. We don't have world class players grabbing headlines and inspiring millions. We've won nothing beyond some regional trophies, and our one claim to fame is that we've beaten teams vastly superior to us when no one thought it possible. Pegging our team as unified, athletic, hard working and..dare I say "honest" all we have.

Davies' play last night runs directly counter to all of that. As a repeat offender, he was already running out of credit. By choosing to roll over Chris Wingert as means to con the ref, he failed to live up to the standards fans have placed upon him.

Charlie's crime was a misdemeanor in a purely soccer sense. On any given weekend in leagues around the world, players do the same or worse. Maybe it was up to the referee to recognize the dive and Charlie, and until effective measures are put in place to curb simulation, Davies and others are right to take any opportunity to game the system. Both parties are at fault, but it's the player who has the pressure to help his team win.

When it comes to his reputation, Charlie committed a felony. The lens through which he's viewed, as an American and a wonderful story of redemption, did him no favors. He's an inspiration and an American, and we ask for more out of players carrying those labels. Charlie's dive wasn't just a bit of "cheating" from a striker looking for a penalty, it was a disgusting play by a special player in whom we've invested so much hope.

Charlie saved a point for United last night at Rio Tinto Stadium, but he might have lost something more important.

And let's not even think about how the anti-soccer crowd will spin Charlie's dive into reason to belittle the sport. Double blech.

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