Mysterious to those unaware of its symbolism, the sea of white signs were held above the smoke for about a minute. Then they were lowered abruptly, as if a maestro had waved his baton.
The synchronized tribute was for Charlie Davies, the U.S. striker who wears No. 9 and who was in serious but stable condition at a nearby hospital following Tuesday’s deadly car accident. Fans from all over the country orchestrated the tribute on the Internet, using Twitter, Facebook and discussion forums.
It was a tender moment for the U.S. in a thrilling 2-2 tie Wednesday against Costa Rica in the final World Cup qualifier. The Americans, who already clinched a World Cup berth, trailed early and watched defender Oguchi Onyewu go down with a torn patella tendon, but Jonathan Bornstein headed in the equalizer in the final minute of stoppage time to cap a fitting salute.
“There were a number of ideas being thrown around to support Charlie Davies,” said U.S. fan Garrett Quinn, who chanted a song about Davies to the tune of “The Ants Go Marching.”
“We decided that since he wears No. 9, it would work better if we did something for the entire ninth minute. It started on Twitter and it just spread everywhere.”
U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati was impressed by the effort.
“It says a lot about our fans. It says a lot about the support our team has and, frankly, it says a lot about technology these days where posting on Twitter can get 10,000 people holding up a No. 9 at once.”
Davies, 23, was a rising star for the U.S., parlaying a breakthrough performance at the Confederations Cup to earn a starting spot in every ensuing qualifier. He was coach Bob Bradley’s first choice at striker, a fireplug with the speed to capitalize on the counterattack.
The New Hampshire native also was a breath of fresh air in the locker room. His goal celebration dance, the “Stanky Leg,” was a creation of exuberance, and one he bravely flaunted in Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium. Davies had the world at his cleats, it seemed, including a freshly-signed contract with Sochaux of the French league.
But the promising career hit a metal railing Tuesday at 3:15 a.m. on George Washington Parkway, in which Davies was severely injured in a single-car accident that also killed a female passenger — 22-year-old Ashley Roberta of Phoenix, Md. The identity of the driver was not revealed, although police said it wasn’t Davies or Roberta.
A picture of the car shows it was split in two.
Davies, who was out past the team’s curfew, underwent five hours of surgery Tuesday after suffering a lacerated bladder and broken bones in his face, leg and elbow. His recovery time is 6-to-12 months, according to the team doctor, all but ruling him out of next year’s World Cup in South Africa.
Davies was responsive Wednesday and opened his eyes at the mention of his name, said Bradley, who visited the hospital.
U.S. players encouraged the cheers for Davies, with striker Jozy Altidore tweeting before the game, “Don’t forget to stand and salute my brother in the ninth minute.”
Midfielder Stuart Holden told his Twitter followers to, “Look out for the Stanky leg 4 Charlie.”
Heavy hearts aside, the game carried more significance for Costa Rica, which needed to win to clinch a World Cup berth. Instead, it finished fourth in the regon and will face Uruguay in a playoff home-and-away series. Honduras clinched third and a spot in South Africa with its win over El Salvador. The Americans won the group by finishing one point above Mexico.
The elation for the U.S. was tapered by the news of Onyewu’s injury, which occurred after he landed wrong in the 83 minute. The AC Milan defender will miss three-to-four months, according to Bradley.