This week we turn the Brazil 2014 Spotlight on Seattle Sounders midfielder/fullback Brad Evans. For our Spotlight on Brazil 2014 series, so far we have featured players plying their trade in Europe. That should not be surprising, after all the bulk of the U.S. Men’s National Team usually consists of players who have chosen that route.
What has been somewhat surprising however, has been Jurgen Klinsmann’s willingness to hand important roles on the national team to Major League Soccer players with no overseas experience.
So, we are not talking Clint Dempsey or Landon Donovan here. In this case we are talking about Brad Evans, one of the biggest surprises to emerge during the Klinsmann era.
A midfielder for Seattle, Evans has benefitted from another Klinsmann habit, that is a willingness to use players in positions they don’t normally play. The U.S. MNT coach has been particularly willing to experiment at the fullback spots, and Evans has come from nowhere to stake a claim on the right side of the U.S. defense.
A knee injury to veteran Steve Cherundolo created an opening at right back and when German-American recruit Timothy Chandler had a poor outing in a World Cup Qualifier at Honduras in February, Klinsmann had a hole to fill.
Geoff Cameron was given the first look, starting two very big March Qualifiers, a 1-0 win over Costa Rica in snowy Colorado and a 0-0 tie in Mexico.
Those two games got the U.S. World Cup bid back on track, but Cameron plays at right back for Stoke, his club in the English Premier League, and Klinsmann still sees the versatile Cameron’s best position as center back.
Evans was still pretty much out of the national team picture, no surprise there, he had never really been in the picture. Prior to this June, Evans had just six caps for the U.S. MNT, so when Klinsmann called the Seattle midfielder in for a couple of friendlies leading into three June World Cup Qualifiers, little notice was taken.
Cameron started the first game, a dispiriting 4-2 loss to Belgium in Cleveland. Evans got his chance at the right fullback position four nights later in Washington D.C., and the Americans pulled off a feel good 4-3 upset of a German B team.
Klinsmann could have went back to Cameron for the WCQ in Jamaica, after all, friendlies are one thing, but Jamaica, at The Office, was for real. But Klinsmann stayed with Evans, and Evans not only took care of his defensive responsibilities, he also scored the game winner in the 89th minute.
Evans retained his position in shutout victories over Panama and Honduras as the U.S. MNT claimed the top spot in the final round of World Cup Qualification, know as the Hex.
Still, Evans was looked at as something of a fill in at the fullback position. With Cherundolo’s knee injury keeping the Hannover captain out much longer than expected and Chandler finding new excuses to turn down Klinsmann’s call ups, fans and pundits alike called for Nottingham Forest’s Eric Lichaj and Evans’ Sounder teammate, the exciting rookie DeAndre Yedlin.
Evans didn’t take part in the Gold Cup, Michael Parkhurst was the right back on the U.S. run to the Gold Cup title. But Parkhurst has been frozen out at Augsburg, rarely making the game day roster for his Bundesliga club. An injury kept Evans out of the September Qualifiers, a 3-1 loss at Costa Rica and the latest 2-0 win over Mexico at Columbus that secured World Cup Qualification for the U.S.
But minus Evans, right fullback was a problem. Michael Orozco flopped against Costa Rica and Fabian Johnson had to be replaced by Parkhurst at halftime in Columbus. Parkhurst was his usual reliable self, but unless he can find a new team and some playing time, Klinsmann is unlikely to bring Parkhurst to Brazil.
So, will Klinsmann entrust Evans, a relative neophyte at the position, with the fullback spot in Brazil? Cherundolo is recently back in training and hopes to return to the lineup this week against Werder Bremen. If the 34 year old Hannover captain can stay healthy and recapture his form, then he instantly becomes the best fullback in the U.S. group.
A lot will be learned about Chandler’s chances in the next couple of weeks. With friendlies coming up against Scotland and Austria in November, U.S. Soccer scouts have been keeping an eye on Chandler at Nurnberg. At his best, Chandler remains an exciting talent, more experienced and better suited to the fullback position than Evans. Lichaj still seems an unlikely bet for Brazil, Klinsmann just doesn’t seem to rate the former Aston Villa man.
Klinsmann has consistently maintained that Evans is a legitimate fullback and maybe it is time that we believe him. As for Evans, he just keeps doing his job, whether that is for the U.S. MNT or for the Sounders, at fullback or midfield.
Last night in the Western Conference Knockout game of the MLS playoffs, Evans started at midfield against the Colorado Rapids. His first half goal gave the Sounders a 1-0 lead. Then when Yedlin was forced from the game with an ankle injury, Evans slid back to fullback and helped the Sounders to 2-0 victory, as they move on to a Conference Semifinal showdown with rivals Portland.
Drafted out of UC Irvine by the Columbus Crew in 2007, Evans has never played outside of MLS. With no European experience on his resume, the 28 year old midfielder was an unlikely choice when Kinsmann turned to him to fill the fullback position against Jamaica.
Looked at by many as a fill in just last June, can Evans “fill in,” all the way to Brazil?