Evans serves modern day utility role

Brad Evans isn’t particularly fast or strong. He rarely stands out from the crowd. And yet, he keeps getting into games, keeps playing and keeps helping teams win. Evans is versatile, able to play at a high level in a variety of spots on the field. And that’s what has kept him in demand.

Evans constitutes the latest in a rather lengthy line in American “all-rounders,” a term usually employed in cricket to describe the dexterous work of players capable of bowling, fielding and batting — and used here because it simply describes the situation better than the American “utility man.” Evans possesses the tactical awareness and the technique to submit a solid shift wherever required.

Most of the time, Evans finds himself somewhere in the middle third. He established his MLS credentials with a series of influential displays as a central midfielder in Columbus, making late runs into the penalty area to catch out opposing defenses. With the United States men’s national team, Jürgen Klinsmann plugged him in right back in June, and penciled in Evans to provide cover in other areas.

“For me, it’s just an opportunity,” Evans said after a recent Seattle Sounders training session. “When that phone number calls, you drop everything. And if [a coach] asks you to play a certain position, you play it. It’s the (modus operandi). You see it quite often, guys play certain positions for their club team and then they get called into the national team and play a little bit differently. It happens.”

Seattle coach Sigi Schmid identified Evans as a potential solution to several problems back when he managed the US under-20 team ahead of the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship. Evans featured primarily as a second forward during those days (he departed UC-Irvine as the Anteaters’ all-time leading scorer), but Schmid tried him along all three lines (Evans even played center back as a promising prospect in Arizona) and ultimately included him in his squad because he possessed the flexibility to slide into different areas in the field.

“It’s difficult,” Schmid said. “Some make it more difficult than it needs to be. They say, ‘oh, that’s not my position,’ so they make it difficult because they go into denial mode. Others pride themselves in it. They have an ability to do that.”

Evans admits it took him a while to overcome those same issues. He once yearned for a fixed place in the lineup. Now he focuses on broader concerns. The fact is, most of the fundamental principles remain the same no matter where you play (it is a game with a ball, on the ground, and you kick it,) but he tweaks his mindset accordingly whether he features in the center of the park (more possession oriented), out wide (more willing to test opposing players one-versus-one) or at his new perch at right back (defense first, picking the right times to push forward second).

“Sometimes, it’ll get a little confusing,” Evans said. “Early in my career, I think I was a little bit more frustrated in wanting to play one position. Now that I’m 28, being on the field and helping the team is number one. At the end of the day, I’m there to play that position.”

Evans isn’t the first American to play wherever he could. The first wave of success in American soccer included players like Thomas Dooley, Earnie Stewart and Peter Vermes adapting their roles depending on the situations. Several domestic players forged MLS careers by sliding from the front toward the back or shunting into whatever vacancy suddenly appeared. Klinsmann’s current outfit includes a left winger now plying his trade at left back (DaMarcus Beasley), a forward operating on the left side of midfield (Eddie Johnson) and a smattering of threatening attacking players capable of popping up just about anywhere.

In fact, the sheer number of all-rounders here flies in the face of jabs about a dearth of tactical sophistication in the American game. It also underscores the faith placed in them by a group of coaches always searching for adept and capable options to cover for inadequacies within the ranks.

“It’s trust, but it’s also the player’s ability,” Schmid said. “Not everybody has it. I think Sasha Victorine had it when I coached him. I think Brad has it as well. You can put them into a different position and they tactically interpret the position fairly well. Like Sasha Victorine, one year with Los Angeles [Galaxy] in the playoffs, I ended up having to play him at center forward against the MetroStars and he was very good up there. He was playing in midfield the entire time, but he could tactically play and interpret that position as it needed to be. Brad has that same ability.”

It has carried Evans through his professional career and provided the United States national team opportunities others crave. He may not remain in the same spot for long, but his willingness to embrace those challenges ensures he always remains in the discussion regardless of where he crops up along the way.