CHARLESTON, S.C. — Brad Evans is still adjusting to the spotlight. The journey from sturdy MLS veteran to U.S. national team starter is a steep one. Making that climb as swiftly as he did exacerbates the gulf.
One new part of the routine: more press obligations. Less than 15 minutes after Evans' late penalty kick gave the Seattle Sounders a 2-1 preseason win over the Charleston Battery on Feb. 22, the 28-year-old found himself pausing outside the Blackbaud Stadium locker room for an extended interview.
With his recently stripped rave-green jersey still in hand, Evans dwelled on the increased attention — from media to fans to competitors.
|ON THE FRINGE
|With the World Cup less than four months away, Goal's Thomas Floyd sat down in Charleston, S.C., with a trio of U.S. national team veterans hoping to book tickets to Brazil. In the first interview, new D.C. United striker Eddie Johnson discussed his latest career reinvention. And come back Thursday for a chat with Houston Dynamo winger Brad Davis, who at 32 years old is fighting for his first World Cup berth.
"It's something I'm not used to," Evans told Goal USA with a shrug. "But it's about being more mature, being able to handle things from the outside and still being able to perform in the games."
One can forgive Evans for taking some time to acclimate to his higher profile. This time last year, the Phoenix native had seven caps and zero World Cup qualifying appearances. Now he's the Americans' incumbent right back with soccer's premier showcase just 100 days away.
Coming off his first January camp as an established veteran following several trips as a fringe player, Evans is growing into his role. Part of that development is taking lessons away from the national team, implementing them on the club level and bringing those evolving qualities back to the U.S. squad.
In Evans' words, "It's this little cycle of the learning curve" that's helped him rise in confidence for club and country.
Following seven seasons coaching Evans with the Columbus Crew and Seattle, Sigi Schmid sees a player with poise. But when Schmid picked Evans for the 2005 U-20 World Cup, that assertiveness was lacking. The sparingly used prospect was raw. Very raw.
"He was a kid who was in awe of the situation. It was like, 'Wow, I'm here. I can't believe that — I was just playing for the (UC Irvine) Anteaters the other day and now I'm here.'" Schmid recalled. "With each step I think his confidence has gotten better. When players improve, the game comes slower to them. They see it easier and better, and he's definitely doing that."
During the nearly four years that passed for Evans between earning his first cap in 2009 and finally breaking into the Americans' "A" squad, he never spent much time dwelling on his national team prospects. If it happened, he'd give it his best. If not, no sense worrying about it.
It was in the span of one week last spring that Evans went from Jurgen Klinsmann's standby list to a starting job against world power Germany. Ever since, the industrious defender-midfielder has been the USA's top choice at the position.
"Brad has always been someone who works hard, and it's nice to see him get rewarded and have the success he had last year and going forward," said Sounders center back Chad Marshall, who also played with Evans with Columbus and the USA. "It's just a credit to the work he puts in."
Yet Evans realizes his grip on the spot isn't exactly impermeable. Geoff Cameron is an everyday starter at right back in the English Premier League for Stoke City. Crew defender Michael Parkhurst returns to MLS this season with UEFA Champions League experience on his resume. The likes of Steve Cherundolo, Eric Lichaj and Timothy Chandler factor into the equation as well.
"You never get complacent," Evans said. "With the national team it's one mistake and they don't look at you the next game — they'll find somebody else that can do it. With the club team, you've got one guy, two guys that can play each position. With (the U.S.) team, there are six or seven guys that can play that position just as good as — if not better than — you on any given day."
Although Evans gets minutes here and there for Seattle at right back, Schmid primarily deploys him as a defensive midfielder or roaming winger. While Evans' clean touches and steady tackling make him a good fit at fullback, he acknowledges still looking for the right balance when taking risks to pinch into the attack.
For a player who could very well name Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo among his assignments come the World Cup group stage, the handful of games he'll likely receive at right back between now and June isn't enough.
That means plenty of homework for Evans. Whether he's on the field or breaking down film, he diligently keeps an eye on the fullbacks and picks up what he can. Having the opportunity to regularly observe DeAndre Yedlin, the Sounders' 20-year-old All-Star right back, doesn't hurt.
As Evans put it, he needs to "just watch the games and be a student" if he wants to maintain his national team place. If there is one thing Evans has grown accustomed to so since being abruptly thrust into the USA's first XI nine months ago, it's the idea of not getting overly comfortable.
"For me, it all happened in the snap of a finger," Evans said. "But there's still work to be done. By no means do I think that I'm guaranteed any certain role or anything. That's not how I view the game, that's not how I view the position. Every game you've got to prove yourself. Going into every camp you've got to prove yourself."
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