clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Tactical Thinkbox: Sounders don't need a new center back, they have Brad Evans

Brad Evans, who has been playing at center back all preseason, could come to re-define how the Sounders function in possession and transition as a libero-style center back.

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

When the Sounders entered this off season there was one almost universally recognized concern on this team: depth at center back. With the retirement of Djimi Traore and off-season surgery hanging over the head of 34-year-old Zach Scott, the question of who would partner with Chad Marshall in the center of the Seattle defense was a big one. While Scott and Marshall developed an incredibly successful rapport over the length of last season, the age of Scott combined with the previous injury history of Marshall make counting on them to be 100 percent healthy for an entire season, let alone for a team competing in three competitions, a suspect choice.

With the only depth behind them the young and inexperienced duo of Damion Lowe and Jimmy Ockford, it seems more than likely the Seattle Sounders will bring in another center back. But in the end this is all speculation; what if the Sounders front office doesn't do anything?

That's where Sounders captain Brad Evans comes into play.

Can Brad Evans even play center back?

To start to think about what Brad Evans bring to the table for the Sounders as a center back we have to start with the question of what constitutes a good center back. Those skills that most immediately spring to mind being aerial ability, spatial awareness, tactical understanding, and tackling ability. Spatial awareness? Check. Tactical understanding? Insert a nearly infinite number of checks. Tackling ability? He spent the first eight years of his career as an extremely good central midfielder. He won 70 percent of his tackles last season. Check. Aerial ability? Brad Evans won 58 percent of his aerial duels in 2014. He won 60 percent in 2013 and 55 percent in 2012. Brad Evans is good in the air. Check.

Beyond the theoretical though, Evans has already demonstrated on several occasions that he can be a viable center back choice, including in game conditions that are as far from ideal as possible. Furthermore, his continued use in USMNT camps as a defender shows his aptitude and versatility of positioning. That has even extended to his league play with the Sounders as Evans made nine appearances last season at both fullback positions. It's safe to say that Evans has the aptitude and skill set to play as a center back in MLS.

The looming question following that line of inquiry is what do the Sounders lose by playing him in that position? To put him in the backline would deprive them of one of their best midfield resources. However, with an ever-growing corps of central midfielders now swelled by presence of the highly touted Cristian Roldan, there isn't nearly as much need for Evans in the center of the pitch. Simultaneously, the Sounders also have a wide midfield corps that includes Marco Pappa, Lamar Neagle, Chad Barrett and new Homegrown players like Darwin Jones and Victor Mansaray. The prospects of Evans seeing significant time in wide midfield positions appear to be diminishing, too.

Brad Evans - the libero the Sounders need

Alongside a rock-solid partner like Marshall or Scott, what Evans can bring is a missing component of deep playmaking to the Sounders offense. Evans is a very good passer, both short and at range. He can be the libero of the Seattle Sounders.

libero-possession-setup-brad-evans

For those not familiar with the role of the libero, it's a role mostly utilized in three-man center back structures. While the origins of the libero in catenaccio was more as a free-roaming defender along the defensive line, that static role has largely disappeared to be replaced by the more modern version seen in the last 3 to 4 decades. In the modern context, the main function is to act as both a deep-lying creative player capable of dragging and stretching opposition presses by moving deep or pushing up into midfield alongside a defensive midfielder to provide structure, playmaking, and defensive stopping power. It's a position that requires a player to be constantly aware of his position in relation to his teammates. In short, it's a type of skill set that Evans is uniquely suited to fit into.

As a team, the Sounders truly excelled last season as a team built around rapid transitions. The secondary component to their success was their ability in possession. What that cost them was structure in transition play. With Gonzalo Pineda being an integral piece of the attack as he pushed from deep midfield forward and Marco Pappa dived inside as an inverted winger, the Sounders left huge swaths of open space in midfield that teams fast on the counter like New England and LA exploited to devastating effect over the course of the season.

While the Sounders eventually found a recipe to the problems caused by counterattacking and high press sides, it was less than ideal, requiring DeAndre Yedlin and Osvaldo Alonso to play in much more restrained roles. With a libero-style defender pushing up into midfield, this restricts the available space in opposition counter-attacks, allowing players Alonso the time to read, set up, and shut them down. On the offensive side of the ball, a libero moving vertically is a much tougher target to high press as well as presenting opposition defenses with yet another target to constrain when trying to shut down rapid transitions between the lines. With one positional change, the Sounders could take a huge step forward in addressing many of the tactical problems that plagued them during last season.

Conclusion

There's a lot to like with this kind of a tactical move for the Sounders. It brings a faster option into defense alongside an aging Leo Gonzalez; it doesn't force Scott into a role where he's playing everyday at an age where he may not be able to; It doesn't block either Lowe or Ockford should they take the developmental leap forward to being viable starting MLS center backs; and, most importantly, it gets one of the Sounders' best tactical players into a position where he's dictating the flow and speed of the game and is capable of influencing the overall buildup in each Sounders possession.

All that said, though, a move like this might be too huge a departure from the norm for the Sounders and Sigi Schmid. It's a very aggressive tactical move and may be ahead of where the Sounders are at as a team. Then again, I'm not the coach who's been playing Evans as a center back all preseason, so maybe the time is already on us.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Sounder At Heart Weekly Roundup newsletter!

A twice weekly roundup of Seattle Sounders and OL Reign news from Sounder at Heart