The New England Revolution sent a message to Major League Soccer Saturday afternoon with their 4-2 win over Columbus in the first leg of their Eastern Conference semifinal.
Jay Heaps' side bossed around the Crew in Ohio thanks to a relentless high pressure, but it was the contributions of New England's starting forward that made the Revs a team to fear for the rest of the playoffs.
Charlie Davies, who has gone through plenty of struggles since his car accident in 2009, looked like the forward who played strong in the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup with his brace against Columbus.
On the first goal of the game, Davies made a terrific run in between two defenders to latch on to a Kelyn Rowe free-kick with a diving header.
The curving run displayed Davies' terrific instinct in front of goal, and it gave Columbus yet another reason to be concerned about defending New England's attack.
His second strike came in the 78th minute, when the Crew defense gave the 28-year-old way too much space on the outside of the box. Davies proceeded to punish the hosts with a strike into the right side of the net past Crew 'keeper Steve Clark.
For Davies, this was a performance five years in the making, as he scored two crucial goals in a big game for the first time in a while.
Davies, who had rough spells in Europe at Sochaux and Randers after his accident, has had just one strong season since 2009. In 2011, Davies scored 11 goals in 26 games for D.C. United, but he did not extend his loan after the season.
After struggling to consistently find his footing over the last two years with the Revolution, Davies finally declared he was 100 percent a few weeks ago, per the Revolution's Jeff Lemieux:
His full fitness couldn't have come at a better time for a New England side in search of a key threat at the forward position.
The Revolution have looked fine moving forward thanks to Most Valuable Player candidate Lee Nguyen and his 18 regular-season goals. It also doesn't hurt to have young guns in Rowe and Diego Fagundez on the wings.
Mix in the experienced Teal Bunbury and the summer acquisition of Jermaine Jones, and the Revolution have plenty of scoring options, but none of them came from the forward position.
Regardless of how well players at other positions are performing, no team is complete without production from a true forward. Entering the first leg of the semifinal clash with Columbus, it was unknown if Davies could produce in a big moment, as he scored on only three occasions throughout the regular season.
During his 1,143 regular-season minutes, Davies did show bursts of confidence, but none of those moments compare to his showing Saturday.
Davies' run on his first goal exuded confidence, as he trusted his head to knock home the free-kick by Rowe instead of hesitating to control the ball. Had he opted for the latter, Clark would have had time to scamper toward the New England forward and disrupt the scoring opportunity.
He once again showed trust in his abilities on the second goal, as he took the shot from distance instead of surging into the box for a close shot.
By opening up the two-legged semifinal, which the Revs should wrap up after earning four away goals at Crew Stadium, Davies proved that his side have a countless number of attacking options.
There are few defenses in the league that will be able to contain the Revolution, especially if Nguyen keeps his hot pace going. The Crew tried to shadow Nguyen as much as they could Saturday, but it opened up more space for players like Davies and Rowe to become a strong threat.
Looking into the future, D.C. United possess a strong center-back combination in Bobby Boswell and Steve Birnbaum, and New York has a towering Jamison Olave in the center of defense. But neither side has a tight back four that can shut down every facet of New England's attack.
With his brace, Davies may have paved the path for New England to head to MLS Cup on December 7. On the league's biggest stage, the Revolution would love to prove an Eastern Conference team can go head-to-head with a team from the dominant Western Conference.
With Davies back in form and firing on all cylinders up front, stopping New England throughout the postseason will be quite the difficult task, even for a strong side like Seattle or LA.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.