By John Boyle Herald Columnist
TUKWILA — With every big-name midfielder Sounders FC has signed over the past couple of years, the question always comes up.
Who is the odd man out?
And it seems like every time, the answer to that question is Brad Evans. Yet here Evans is, in his fourth year with Sounders FC, playing as vital a role as ever while finding new ways to make himself invaluable.
Evans would be the first to tell you that he isn’t the most skilled player on the Sounders FC roster. He doesn’t possess the creative flair of Fredy Montero, the lethal finishing ability of Eddie Johnson, the ability to set up goals like Mauro Rosales, or the unparalleled ball-winning abilities of Osvaldo Alsonso. But even if Evans isn’t Seattle’s most valuable player, he is certainly its most versatile.
So even if you aren’t wowed by the display Evans puts on during tonight’s game against Dallas, you should appreciate what he has brought to the team in yet another season in which many figured he would fade into the background.
When Seattle signed Christian Tiffert earlier this season, Evans realized he might lose playing time at central midfielder, so he focused on learning how to play on the left side, and promptly moved into the starting lineup at left mid. When Seattle was thin on its back line Wednesday night, Evans started at right back, a position he has played sparingly with Seattle, though he has played there with the U.S. National Team. And when Zach Scott was issued a red card 30 minutes into Wednesday’s game, Evans slid over to play center back, a position he said he hasn’t played in a game since he was 10 years old.
Evans has started games at four different positions this season, and last year he even started a game at forward. It is that versatility, that willingness to take on a new position and excel at it that has allowed Evans to start 27 games this season, more than every Sounder aside from Alonso, who has started 28, and Jeff Parke, who has also started 27. Evans has also played more minutes than all but three Sounders: Montero, Alonso and Parke.
“That’s why he’s the kind of player that coaches like,” said Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid. “… He’s the kind of player who will also accept whatever role you give him. If you say, ‘This is what I need you to do today,’ it’s like, ‘Hey, if this helps the team win, I’m going to go out there and do it.’”
If Evans is in the lineup tonight, it will mark his 14th straight start dating back to July 15. Not long after that streak started, Seattle signed Tiffert, whose resume included some impressive seasons in Germany Bundesliga. Tiffert plays the same central midfield role that Evans has played for much of his career in Seattle, so when rumors of that signing first started swirling, it of course got Evans’ attention.
“To be honest, when I read that they’re signing another central midfielder, that obviously gets me kind of fired up,” Evans said. “It says, they’re bringing in this guy because you don’t have something.”
But in those situations, when Seattle signs a Tiffert or a Rosales or an Erik Friberg, Evans doesn’t feel sorry for himself. He instead finds new ways to make himself indispensable no matter how much competition the team signs.
“I look at it as, ‘Where can I move and where can I fit in to help the team the most?’” he said. “I’ve always been a player who says, ‘play me wherever you want to.’ As long as I’m on the field, that’s the most important thing. … I have no problems playing any position. Whatever is asked of me is what I’ll do. That’s the type of player I am, the type of person I am.”
So yeah, if you want to accuse Schmid, who also coached Evans for two seasons in Columbus, and also on the U.S. under-20 team, of sometimes favoring Evans over more skillful players, you might be right. But that doesn’t happen because of some sort of misplaced loyalty, it is because Evans is the kind of player winning teams need. He’s the grinder, the guy who will win a ball in the air, who will make the dangerous runs in the box over and over, even if he isn’t the most prolific goal scorer, and yes, the guy who will switch positions mid-game to find himself in a spot where he hasn’t played since childhood.
“You need those kind of guys who have that versatility, but also have the mentality to approach that in a positive manner,” Schmid said. “I took a player here this season and played him out of position in a practice, and it was like, ‘Well that’s not where I play, what does he expect from me?’”
An abrupt position change in practice may throw some players off their game, but for Evans, it’s just part of constant adapting he has been doing throughout his four seasons in Seattle. While making community appearances with other players in recent weeks, Evans has inevitably had kids ask him what position he plays.
And Evans has answered that question only way he knows how: “Everywhere.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com.