It’s been nine months since Brad Evans was in the Sounders’ starting XI, a 4-2 loss to the Portland Timbers last August. While he played a pretty pivotal substitute role in the team’s MLS Cup run, injuries in the offseason have kept him from the starting lineup in 2017 thus far. But Evans has finally started to work his way back into the team, playing the role of late substitute in the humiliating losses to Chicago and Sporting KC in the past week.
Having been in the game for a long time, Evans has harbored realistic expectations for his return. While his ultimate goal is to get back into the starting lineup, he said that making these late appearances is really the “only way now to get game fitness.” The game situations he’s been thrown in have been far from ideal, but Evans think it has actually helped him gain fitness because he has to hit the ground running the moment he steps onto the field. “At this point you kind of have to shock the body, it’s coming in late in games and chasing a bit.”
Now that he’s shown he can get back into the pace of an MLS match, it seems more and more likely that he could get a starting role in this weekend’s match against Real Salt Lake. Evans declined to give his “percentage” of full fitness, but he said that he’s “close” to where he wants to be. If he does indeed make the starting XI, he thinks it’s unlikely he’ll last a full 90 minutes, though. “Maybe, if we’re up 3- or 4-0 and I can stay back and defend, then you take what the game gives you. If we’re chasing for a goal and we’re losing 1-0 and I’m gassed at 60 or 65, I gotta be honest with the team and do what’s best for the group.”
Evans said he hopes to approach whatever role he has the weekend in the way he had planned his substitute appearances to be: “Keeping it simple, I think. Making sure that you come in and connect your first couple passes and get into the game.” The biggest challenge for Evans will be the pace and rhythm of the game. “Rhythm is important in this game, the flow of the game is important, when to speed up, when to slow down is important. It’s all part of being a veteran and recognizing certain situations.”
But this weekend’s match may not afford him such luxuries, because it’s also not a match that can be taken lightly. “For me, it’s getting into the game slowly but also knowing that this is a home game and we’ve gotta win this one.” He knows that the most important thing is “righting the ship” as soon as possible. “There are a number of things as to why this is a big game. And to get on a good hot streak, it’s gotta start somewhere.”
With the first of two home matches in a row coming up, Evans said that the Sounders must absolutely do at home what their last two opponents did to them—and hope that every bit of luck goes their way. “Now it’s on us, can we do that at home, can we put teams under pressure, can we make teams make mistakes, can we draw a penalty, can we get one little flick off the post that bounces our way and the chips start to fall and you get confident and move forward from there.”