What do you say to a fan base you loathed for a decade to the point of flipping them the bird in the middle of a game?
That’s the question Brad Davis, whose brash and competitive attitude helped fuel a heated rivalry, knew he’d face when penned the latest Sporting Kansas City signee on Thursday.
“They loved to hate me because we've had some great games, and I've been in the middle of victories for the Dynamo, and we've gone back and forth,” Davis said. “But I think it's a fantastic fan base. I really do. It's always engaging when you go to those games. The atmosphere has always been great.”
A fun and humble response from one of the league’s most decorated players of all-time.
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“I might have to walk in the locker room on the first day with some boxing gear on,” he later joked.
Davis, who now likely will finish his storied career in Sporting blue, is third all-time in MLS with 122 regular season assists. (He’ll almost certainly challenge Landon Donovan’s 136-career assists mark.) The St. Charles, Missouri, native is a two-time MLS Cup champion, a World Cup veteran and MLS All-Star. He also ended Sporting KC’s season on three occasions during his time in Houston.
Unfortunately, the mindshare of public attention (at least in Kansas City) initially has been placed on the latter fact instead of all the qualifications that make Davis one of the best to ever don an MLS kit. If not scorn because of his past allegiance, then certainly his age and the perception that at 34 years old, Davis cannot contribute to a 4-3-3 system predicated on pressing up the field.
While Davis isn’t the consistent, moment-to-moment game-changer Sporting KC needs to win another MLS Cup, there’s little doubt in Davis’ ability to change the course of a game. Since 2008, he has tallied at least eight assists in every season, including double-digit assists in six of those seasons. His set-piece service is unparalleled; just ask Sporting KC fans who have learned the hard way over the years. And even as the miles rack up, Davis has remained durable, playing in 25 games or more during that time, including 30 games this past season.
The addition of Davis does pose an interesting question in where he fits in the system. For much of his career, Davis was a wing player who could challenge defenders out wide. Last season, however, as his pace lessened, he slotted more in the middle of the field as an attacking midfielder able to hold the ball, wait for/spot runs and push forward when necessary.
That sounds a lot like 2015 MVP finalist Benny Feilhaber, doesn’t it? At the very least, Davis is quality insurance in the midfield and out on the wing, able to provide critical minutes when called upon. That could be key with another U.S. Open Cup stretch during the summer and then again late in the season when Sporting KC begins its 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League run. (And as Sporting KC battles the injury bug that plagued the club over the past two seasons).
From what Davis had to say on Thursday, that’s all Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes is asking from him. At this time, there doesn’t appear to be a grandeur, tactical plan to use him; Vermes simply values a competitive, self-driven, veteran guy who has proven dependable on countless occasions.
“He (Vermes) basically said I was a guy he wanted to bring in because of my competitiveness, my willingness to win and my experience in the league,” Davis said. “That’s what he wants me to bring in right away. He actually told me, ‘I don’t want you to come in here and feel like you have to try and ease your way in and fit in with the guys. I want you come in and be exactly who you are and who you’ve been – a guy that’s going to compete, not be afraid to say things when things need to be said, and try and help us win any way possible.’ For me, that’s what I’m going to try and do.”
If Davis is the veteran option off the bench, it certainly can’t be for his 2015 salary of $400,000, another major concern stemming from Thursday’s announcement. Per MLS rules, terms of the deal were not disclosed, which means there’s no telling at this time whether Houston is picking up part of his 2016 contract, or if he’s taking a pay cut to move closer to home. Even with mounting allocation money sums, one wouldn’t imagine Sporting KC taking on a $400,000 salary for a quality option off the bench.
However, if that is Davis’ price tag, the club could recoup costs by parting ways with Mikey Lopez, whose $172,000 in guaranteed compensation will count against the salary cap next season due to his expiring Generation adidas status, or Marcel de Jong who earned north of $180,000 in 2015.
But assuming Sporting KC isn’t breaking its bank for the 34-year-old midfielder, the club didn’t give up much to get Davis’ talents (a 2017 second-round and 2018 third-round SuperDraft pick). Sporting KC’s scouting group has done remarkably well in past drafts – most recently the 2015 class that produced Amadou Dia, Saad Abdul-Salaam and Connor Hallisey – but the MLS SuperDraft has long been a crapshoot with talent often fizzling out. With Sporting KC looking to win in the now, giving up two future pieces that may or may not pan out for a proven player is good business.
What it ultimately comes down to is this: If Davis produces in a Sporting KC uniform, fans will forget the heated exchanges during his time in Houston. They’ll no longer focus on his age, because players like Robbie Keane continue to produce in this league well into their 30s. Davis’ track record says he can still contribute, and in Kansas City he shouldn’t be asked to do too much. For what that’s worth, Sporting KC made off with an excellent addition as it continues to round out its roster.