Brad Evans knows what's at stake tonight when the Seattle Sounders host Santos Laguna in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal. He knows all of MLS is watching. He knows people around the world are watching. He knows Sounders fans are aching for a massive victory.
He doesn't seem to mind.
"The guys on the field understand that our team is probably the most watched team and you get looks from other parts of the world," Evans recently said. "Some guys’ contracts are coming up. It’s got to be a good showing year or you’re going to be going elsewhere.
"If you want to be in an international spotlight you need to progress. To progress as a player, you need to get results on the field. This is as big as it gets."
In a game like this that has the potential to be a defining moment in the team's history, it could very well end up being the play of Evans that determines the outcome. Evans is one of the Sounders' top ball-winners and also their most physical offensive player, two things that could prove particularly valuable against a relatively undersized team -- at least by MLS standards -- like Los Guerreros. The good news is that Evans has never been better prepared for such an opportunity.
"I feel as good as I ever have," said Evans, who quietly compiled six goals and six assists across all competitions a year ago. "More importantly, the mental aspect is there. When you hit a certain age, the game becomes a little bit different. When you sit out, you get to watch the game from above. Seeing that aspect, kinda like coaches do, you see the game a little bit differently and now I have the advantage of taking it on the field and trying to apply it. Hopefully it’s a blessing in disguise."
Unlike last offseason, Evans has been able to focus on improving as opposed to just getting fit. The injuries that dogged him throughout last offseason and for much of the first half of the season are gone.
"I don’t think I missed one training session the whole time," he said. "Last year, I’d train one day and then have to ride the bike the next. You really miss 24 hours. That’s big. Those type of things add up throughout the year. It takes a mental toll on you, too. There were points where I couldn't run. It was so painful. The fact that I’ve been training on turf every single day and I haven’t had any setbacks, it’s such a mental boost."
He even got a head start on some of his teammates this year, as he was called into the United States national team training camp on Jan. 4 and even picked up a couple more caps. Evans was on the field as the final whistle blew on the both of the 1-0 victories.
That experience with the national team, his first since 2010, also gave Evans a mental edge. While Evans believes he has always been one of the Sounders' clubhouse leaders, he now considers it part of his responsibility to take that characteristic to the next level. He noted that he is one of just seven players who remain from the Sounders' 2009 First Kick roster and that his four seasons with coach Sigi Schmid are more than any other Sounders player.
But Evans is also well aware that to be a true leader, there need to results. As good as last year was from a statistical standpoint, he has the ability to improve.
Evans has always been a good quote, but he was also very careful about what he said. Now, he comes off as far more at ease, as if he's no longer worried about what people in the stands may be saying about him. He knows that the pressure for the Sounders to succeed has never been higher. Rather than hide from that, he seems to have embraced it.
Now, it's time for him and his Sounders teammates to show it. #BeatSantos