Sean Davis celebrates his back-breaking goal with his teammates. (Photo by Matthew Levine)
By Michael Lewis
HARRISON, N.J. — That the Red Bulls are ready to trade Felipe isn’t just a testament to Tyler Adams and his skills. Sean Davis just might have had something to do with that.
After starting the 2017 MLS season on the wrong foot and perhaps in the wrong position, the 25-year-old midfielder has slowly come into his own.
That was never more apparent than in the Red Bulls’ 2-0 second-leg win over Olimpia in the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 Thursday night.
He was positioned well, made wise choices on both sides of the ball, helped the attack and tallied the second goal at Red Bull Arena as the Red Bulls won the series, 3-1, to set up a quarterfinal confrontation against Tijuana of Mexico.
“I expect big things for Sean,” Red Bulls captain and goalkeeper Luis Robles said. “I think this organization expects big things and I know he personally expects big things from himself. Obviously because of the nature of our business, our players come and go. We lost a player that for the last two years led the league in assists. So, it’s going to be a huge void to fill.”
Robles was referring to midfielder Sacha Kljestan, who led the league in assists the past two seasons before the team traded him to Orlando City SC.
“But, I think for us internally the narrative isn’t about how we can replace someone,” he said. “We have a lot of confidence in the guys that we have. As we look at Sean and his ability to control the game I can’t help but really think that this guy is going to continue to grow because of the ceiling he has, the mentality he has and of course his commitment to get better. With each and every week, each and every practice, with each game there is going to be a progression. It’s going to be exciting not only for this organization but for U.S. Soccer.”
When then team captain Dax McCarty was injured in 2016, Davis deputized well for him. After McCarty was traded last year, Davis was given a holding midfielder role but never played up to his potential and struggled. It took a while for him to get comfortable, blossoming as he took advantage of a more offensive role.
You have to wonder if he would have had the confidence at this time last year to take a shot from distance, a 26-yarder, which ricocheted off an Olimpia defender and into the Honduran side goal in the 64th minute.
“I saw that a lot of their team was shifting towards the outside of the field,” Davis said. “That created a little space for me on the top of the box. I just wanted to slow myself down. I was confident that I could create a little space and from there I wanted to pull the trigger. It’s a cold night, it’s a wet night, you never know what the ball is going to do. I was fortunate for the deflection, but you have to shoot the ball if you want to score.”
Comparing Davis’ start the last two seasons is like night and day.
“I think that since last year I have grown a lot but so has the whole team,” he said. “And that’s the best thing about this club. This club gives you the chance to establish yourself and they do everything they can to help you grow. They see the potential that you have and they really try to push you in the right direction.”
Right now, that direction is pointed up.