Brad Evans is the starting central midfielder on this team. It seems we as a community have finally come to peace with that. He's not the No. 10 that some still dream of, but there at least seems to be a collective realization that as this team is currently constructed, there are no better options. I happen to think he's as good as anyone in the league at playing his particular role -- neither CAM nor CDM, but a true box-to-box midfielder who is more facilitator than creator.
What is now the more compelling debate, at least from where I sit, is who backs up Evans?
For the time being, that seems to be a two-man competition: Andy Rose and Alex Caskey, both of whom played that position at times on Saturday against the Philadelphia Union. Servando Carrasco has, at times, filled that role, but it's becoming increasingly obvious that he is better suited to spell Osvaldo Alonso or be a late-game substitute when the Sounders are protecting a lead. There's also the possibility that Alvaro Fernandez could be plugged in there at some point, but just keeping him healthy at a position he's comfortable with seems more important than teaching him to do something new.
In Rose and Caskey, Sounders coach Sigi Schid is presented with two very different options:
If we are looking for the most like-for-like swap for Evans, Rose potentially fits that bill almost perfectly. Their builds are quite similar and they play the game in similar styles. Both are going to give you a physical presence, while still joining the attack and being a real weapon on set pieces.
Of course, as we saw on Saturday, Rose is still far from a refined product. In watching the replay of his two notable tackles, I don't know that there would have been much room for the Sounders to argue if he had been sent off for either. On the first, he was lucky to avoid much contact, because his cleats were showing and his boot was raised quite high. That's a straight red if Michael Farfan doesn't leap over him. The later tackle on Freddy Adu was almost certainly a yellow card in any other situation, but he clearly got the benefit of Ricardo Salazar's judgement to not send him off so early in his debut.
To his credit, he did settle down. Rose ended up completing about 79 percent of his passes, won six headers and generally managed to stay out of Alonso's way. He also came very close to opening his scoring account when he put a header off the crossbar early in the second half. In other words, he turned in a very Evans-lite performance.
In talking to some of my fellow Sounders beat writers (what, is name-dropping frowned upon?), if you want to call Rose a poor-man's Brad Evans, you may as well dub Caskey the "99-cent taco version of Erik Friberg." (By the way, I'm taking full credit for that if it catches on.)
Unless you've been to a reserve game or two, chances are you haven't really seen Caskey playing center mid aside from his brief stint there on Saturday. But even if you haven't, you can probably sense what he brings based on his wing play. He has a tireless engine, has solid vision and passing and can strike a mean shot.
He also comes with a little more risk. He only completed about 65 percent of his passes, but he was generally more dangerous and active than Rose. He didn't get into the penalty area as much as a Rose or Evans, but he definitely showed of his leg with a couple nice shots from distance.
The problem was his penchant for giving the ball away. A couple led to breaks the other way, and Rose picked up his yellow after trying to win back one of his errant passes in the Sounders' end.
As I stated earlier, Evans is the starter. I think he deserves it and as long as Fredy Montero is essentially a trequartista, there's not really room for a pure No. 10. Evans is going to miss time, though, and the Sounders seem to have a couple decent options when that's the case. Against more defensive sides -- at least ones that aren't as punchless as the Union -- I think Caskey would help open up the field. Against teams that pose a bit more of a threat offensively, I think Rose should be the guy.