TUKWILA, Wash. — When 2017 started, Brad Evans expected to be the starting right back. Brian Schmetzer and Garth Lagerwey expected it, too. Then came an injury. And another. And maybe one or two more. The Seattle Sounders went through the first half of the season starting six different players at right back. Evans has started just four of the 21 competitive games played so far, logging just a bit over 300 minutes.
The club saw a hole in their roster and filled it with Kelvin Leerdam. Now, as Evans is fit and back from red-card suspension and injury, he doesn’t know his role through the season. Publicly, the Sounders have suggested they still see Evans as an important part of the team, possibly in a variety of roles.
“I was told that he was being signed, that I would play until he was fit, and then wasn’t really told much after that,” Evans told Sounder at Heart after Thursday’s practice session. “So, I don’t know what the future holds or where I fit in, but there’s guys that are injured or off on international duty, so if I have to plug in elsewhere, we’ll see. But ultimately, I see myself as a right back now and in the future until I stop playing. So, it'll be most likely, probably a discussion that we have — I don’t know to be honest.”
Evans says he is fit. His regimen puts him on track to contribute as soon as the team needs him. “Yesterday, I was in when other guys weren’t doing fitness, I had a full session. Everything is periodical and yeah, I feel good.”
The former captain is both careful with his words and eager to play. A former formidfender [that story about “Evans’ new role” was written in 2012] he is now fully comfortable as a right back, a position that Sigi Schmid, Bob Bradley, Jurgen Klinsmann and Bruce Arena all used him at with various national teams between 2005 and the present. Schmid and Schmetzer used him there as a Sounder.
“I would like to just stay as a right back and if that means sitting on the bench and, you know, biding my time and playing behind him [Leedam], then it is what it is. Finish out the year there and get my minutes there if he isn't fit or if he picks up a knock or something, plug in there. But, I see my future in this league as a right back and I know I can play there at a top level,” he says with confidence.
In years past, Evans was the starting center mid. Erik Friberg signed in 2011 and Evans moved to more of a utility role drifting between right mid and the center. The following year, the Sounders signed Christian Tiffert as a Designated Player in the summer. Evans then started playing more on the backline before “permanently” becoming a center back in 2015. That same year was when Roman Torres signed as a TAM player. But Torres tore his ACL so Evans stayed at CB basically until the Panamanian returned, which happened to coincide with Evans suffering an injury. Evans was used mostly off the bench and in the midfield during the MLS Cup run. Now, several months into the season another TAM signing is pushing Evans into a new situation.
“I feel most comfortable there [right back] on the pitch right now, especially in our formation. I don't think I'm a creative guy that plays on the wing or beats guys or is anything for speed. And in the midfield, I see myself more as a box-to-box, and we don’t really play that way. So in terms of that aspect, I see myself as a right back.”
From the discussion a few things became clear: Evans is slightly frustrated, he understands Schmetzer’s tactics and sees one (maybe two roles) for himself, and that he knew this conversation was coming for a few weeks.
The club announced Leerdam July 1. In some ways Kelvin and Brad are similar. Both like to get forward. That entry into the attack is part of why right back is an appeal to Evans.
“Ultimately I'm an attacker at heart. I love putting the ball in the back of the net. From a young age, I’ve always been a person who, when I watched soccer, I always watched strikers and I watched attacking midfielders. That's the guys that I tried to emulate so you know if you're a good attacker on the wings, defending becomes easier because you ultimately pin their outside backs and wingers back.”
B-Rad sees the modern fullback as most do — an attacker first, defender second.
“You'll find yourself in positions where you have to defend, and ultimately that's come, not easy for me, but I can read the game enough to get away with playing a defensive position after playing midfielder for a number of years. In saying that, the modern position is a guy who likes to get forward, and I enjoy that. I like creating, but I don’t necessarily like being the point guy who you have to rely on to create. I really like being the secondary, third guy who gets in a little bit late.”
Evans is well known for his tactical acumen. It is why he is able to be that guy that makes secondary and tertiary runs. It is how he can defend speedsters on the flank, despite being slower.
“Generally on the wing you have to deal with one or two [attackers] at most, so making sure that you’re staying with your runners is key — especially a good outside winger and a speedy left mid or left forward, whatever you want to call them. Tactically, I see the game — I don't know how I see the game,” Evans laughs, “but I’m just able to do it and maybe that's years of playing different positions that I can rack up.”
Evans is healthy, hungry for playing time, eager to play and in no way ready to let Father Time determine his future. While there was evidence that Brad was dissatisfied, there is nothing from the tone or words he used that indicated he wanted anything more than to both help the team win and to keep playing at his best position, one where he can remain healthy.
“Ultimately, I want to play one position consistently so that I can keep moving forward with my career. I think the days of plugging in different positions are over. It wears a lot on you, mentally and physically as well. So just for my peace of mind, I think one position is best for me. “
Beth Mantle transcribed the interview.