Photo by Jose L. Argueta/ISIphotos.com
By THOMAS FLOYD
WASHINGTON – With each passing game, Charlie Davies makes it harder and harder for D.C. United coach Ben Olsen to keep him on the bench.
Davies' remarkable comeback story saw another notable chapter written Saturday, as the D.C. striker earned and converted a 90th-minute penalty kick to help his side steal a 1-1 draw against the Los Angeles Galaxy at RFK Stadium.
Davies collected a pass inside the penalty area from fellow substitute Branko Boskovic and took on Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez. After doing a step-over and touching the ball toward the end line, Davies tried to push past Gonzalez and tumbled to the turf after some mild contact with the centerback's forearm.
Referee Abiodun Okulaja pointed to the spot, and Davies calmly placed his penalty kick down the middle as goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts dived to his right, knotting the score for United (1-2-1) and giving himself a league-leading four goals (three PKs) on the young MLS season.
"I knew I was going down the middle the whole time," Davies said. "Ricketts is a big guy. I know he's pretty quick and he's going to get to a corner. I knew down the middle, he's going to be vulnerable, and it worked out."
The questionable call split opinions between the two locker rooms, as one would expect, and Galaxy midfielder Jovan Kirovski was ejected at the final whistle as he continued to share words with Okulaja.
"Every time I'm one on one, I'm going to go at you," Davies said. "I was able to take a good step-over and get by Omar, but he put his arm up and knocked me off balance. That's a penalty."
Said Galaxy coach Bruce Arena: "Well, the officiating in this league is what it is. Unfortunately, we're all conditioned to it now anyway and accept it."
One thing is for certain: Davies, who missed a league match last weekend and a U.S. Open Cup tilt Wednesday with a groin injury, isn't going to retain his role as a supersub much longer.
The 24-year-old has entered at halftime or shortly thereafter and scored in each of his three appearances for United this season, his first top-flight matches since suffering major injuries in an October 2009 car accident. At this point, his emergence in the starting 11 seems eminent.
"I know he's chomping at the bit to get the start," Olsen said. "It's great. I wouldn't be happy either if I wasn't starting. Give him credit — he came in and he gave us a big play. And that's what he has been doing for us off the bench."
Davies' tally came with United down a man, as midfielder Santino Quaranta saw his second yellow card for a challenge on Gonzalez minutes before.
The Galaxy (2-1-2) took its lead in the 12th minute. Mike Magee, an active force on the left flank throughout the contest, skied to connect with an exquisite corner from midfielder David Beckham and nod his shot past United goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who saw his first minutes of the season after recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.
It was an eventful match for Beckham, who slid into central midfield to fill in for the suspended Chris Birchall. In addition to serving in dangerous set pieces to relentless boos from the D.C. faithful, Beckham also went in for several hard challenges and picked up his fourth yellow card of the season for an ugly tackle on United forward Josh Wolff late in the first half.
And his presence had a noticeable effect on the D.C. attendance: 26,622, an increase of more than 8,000 from United's home opener against the Columbus Crew.
Some of those fans were disappointed, however, that the Galaxy played without captain Landon Donovan, who was held out as a precautionary measure with a bruised knee. Despite his absence, the Galaxy was in good position to enjoy a tough road victory.
"I felt we deserved the game," Beckham said. "There's no reason why we shouldn't be walking away from this stadium tonight with three points."
After replacing rookie Blake Brettschneider in the 53rd minute, Davies almost immediately began harassing the well-organized Los Angeles back line with his pace. He nearly broke through in the 67th minute when he accelerated past Galaxy defender Leonardo and advanced in on goal, but his touch was a heavy one and Ricketts charged from his net to beat him to the ball.
"I'll go 95 [minutes]," Davies said of his fitness. "I'm ready. I want to play every minute. That's why I came to D.C. United — to play and get all the time I can. Coming off the bench is OK in the beginning. Of course, I haven't played in a year and a half, so you want to ease me in. But at this point, I feel I'm ready to go. I think I can really help this team if I get more minutes."
Although Davies' last-gasp equalizer might make the draw seem like a favorable result for the home side, Olsen wasn't satisfied with his team's play, fingering a poor possession game for United's needing a late goal just to get a result.
"I'm happy we battled back and found a way to get a tie, but overall it's not good enough," Olsen said. "And that starts with me. I think we may be fortunate tonight. And I'll take the blame for that. That's it — that's how I look at it. We've got some work to do."