Score a goal and suddenly everyone wants to talk to you, Minnesota United FC defender Justin Davis joked earlier this week.
Goals fall like desert rain for Davis. His climb to elite status in the North American Soccer League owes to steady play. He was named to the league's Best XI team last season and also became United FC's all-time leader in minutes played, two testaments to the consistency he craves. Last week's game-winning goal at Indy Eleven was a bonus.
"I've heard the greatest asset you can be is to be available," said Davis, whose Loons play Saturday night against the Jacksonville Armada FC at the National Sports Center Stadium in Blaine. "Before last season I wrote down goals, one of which was playing every minute of every game. I did the same before this season because it's something I take great pride in."
Persistence comes with a price. He played the first few games last season despite a broken toe.
He celebrated a NASL championship with the then-Stars as a rookie in 2011, scoring the eventual game-winning goal in the finals. A postseason physical revealed a cracked bone in his right foot.
That explains why I couldn't run on the bottom of my foot, Davis thought.
Two weeks ago, Davis got upended late in the Atlanta match and awkwardly crashed to the field. After several minutes on the grass, Davis rose and battled to the final whistle. He is playing with an undisclosed upper-body injury but has logged all 540 minutes so far this season.
"You play through not being able to wake up the next morning without pain," said Davis, 27, who traces his work ethic to growing up in Arizona. "My parents are real hard-working. They always tell me, 'If you can run, you can play.' I know guys take knocks and can't go through, but I just try to play through. The adrenaline of the game gets you through a lot of stuff."
Team captain Aaron Pitchkolan lauded Davis as a consummate professional: "He battles through things and it's obvious within the team that he's a really dedicated guy."
Davis and fellow outside back Kevin Venegas provide a dynamic element to Minnesota's attack. Converted to forward for his final two college seasons at New Mexico, Davis still possesses a scorer's touch. During practice earlier this week, Davis rushed the net, brought his foot up waist-high and flicked the ball under the crossbar. Assistant coach Carl Craig hollered praise.
Experience playing forward helps him "kind of get into the forward's mind a little bit," Davis said. "You ask yourself, 'What would I do if I was in this position?'"
Scoring goals is one more avenue for Davis to exhibit toughness. He sprinted the last dozen yards to score his rebound goal last week. U.S. Soccer Hall of Famer Alan Willey, color commentator on the Channel 45 television broadcast, told viewers, "You've got to bust a gut to get in there, and he did it."
Making tough plays and rarely missing a minute of action puts Davis in a class of his own, Pitchkolan said.
"He's significantly better than other outside backs in this league," said Pitchkolan, a Major League Soccer veteran. "I think he's on par with guys in other leagues as well."