It was a rather eventful day at practice today with the biggest news undoubtedly being Brad Evans' participation in on-field practice drills. Evans had been limited to work on the side since last appearing in the June 5 game against the Revolution, when he hurt his knee. Last week, he had been reactivated from the disabled list with the hope that he would be healthy enough to return before the end of the season.
Today, he was running around the pitch with the bright green top that means he's a neutral. That's the step an injured player goes through before fully participating in practice, which precludes making a gameday appearance.
"I was winded today, so it'll take a couple of weeks to get fitness," Evans said. "It's a day-by-day thing, so I don't want to set a goal and pressure myself too hard."
Evans said he only found out that he'd be given a chance to return this year last week, around the same time media was notified. With only about five weeks left in the regular season, Evans' return received new motivation.
"It accelerated the process a little bit," Evans said. "We pushed it hard at practice last week. These guys wanted me to take a couple of days off, see how it would settle and see what it did. If it got worse then I think they were going to back off a little bit. It didn't get any worse, kind of stayed at a baseline of pain. So we'll push it now, get the fitness and kind of go from there."
The expectation is that Evans would ultimately return to a role in the central midfield.
More on the Mexican charter flight and Nkufo's Player of Week honors after jump.
MEXICAN VACATION: Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said the team decided about a month ago that they would fly home between the Columbus and Monterrey matches. What made this feasible was Sounders ownership ponying up the cost to fly charter from Seattle to Monterrey and then flying charter from Monterrey to Chicago. The direct flights allow the team to skip hours worth of layovers in cities such as Houston, through which many commercial Mexican flights are routed.
"I thought it was important," Schmid said. "Otherwise it becomes a two-week road trip, so it was important for us to get home for a couple days, for the guys who are married to see their wives and their kids and for the other guys to see their girlfriends and for us to be able to sleep in our own beds is important. It gets long when you’re on the road. I always say when a team is on the road and they got to do laundry, that’s usually a time to come back home. We were at that stage. [Brian] Schmetzer had to get socks from the equipment guy, so it was time to come home."
MLS apparently allows teams to use charters for four legs of league-related travel. The flight from Monterrey to Chicago will count as one leg, meaning the team has three legs of potential charter flights to use. The team had also chartered a flight to and from Honduras for the Marathon match, but that did not count against the team's charter allotment.
BLAISE GOES POW: In what should qualify as barely newsworthy, Blaise Nkufo was named the MLS Player of the week by the North American Soccer Reporters for his hat trick against Columbus on Saturday. In doing so, Nkufo became just the 91st player in MLS history to accomplish the feat and the third this year (Zack Schilawski and Sebastian Le Toux were the others).
"It's a great feeling," Nkufo said. "It was an important game for the team and we needed to win."
Although those were Nkufo's first MLS points, Schmid has gone to great lengths to explain how important Nkufo's play has been, even when he's not scoring.
"It always takes every player a little bit of time to adjust," Schmid said. "But the good ones like Blaise always make that adjustment. He found his feet. I said even before he was scoring goals that his holdup play was really important to us because he allows us to get other players into the attack and allows us to have a flow into our game, which really helps us. It was great to see him get on the board."