Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid is facing a harsh reality about opening day. He is also charging at that reality head-on, without any sign of slowing.
James Riley will miss MLS First Kick because he received a red-card ejection late in the Sounders FC’s 1-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo in the first round MLS Cup playoffs. That leaves the starting right back job open for the Game One, but Schmid has a very viable option waiting in the wings in midfielder Brad Evans.
The UC-Irvine product has played in the midfield throughout the first three years of his Major League Soccer career, tallying eight goals in over 4,000 minutes. Last summer, though, US National Team coach Bob Bradley tried Evans out as a right back and he has continued to do periodic work from that position ever since, while maintaining his central-midfield spot with the Sounders FC.
Thursday night, he played right back for the Sounders and impressed in a 1-0 loss to the Portland Timbers in anticipation of fulfilling that need on March 25.
“I was comfortable. When I was with the national team, I got to play right back that whole camp. In Tampa Bay, I made one mistake, but I watched it again and there were some positives to be taken from that game,” said Evans. “I learned a lot from that camp for sure. There are still some little things that I know I have to fine tune, but I thought I did ok.”
His transition back into Sounders camp, after missing the entire trip to Spain in February to be with the USMNT, was slowed by a strained hip flexor. However, he is back on the field and played a full 90 minutes against Portland.
“I thought he did well. For me, he was probably our best player over 90 minutes, our most consistent player,” Schmid said. “I thought he was one of the guys who was dynamic and looking to get forward. Sometimes we miss him in the middle of midfield because he's someone who finds his way into the box."
Goalkeeper Kasey Keller, never one to hold back a critical comment, was also highly complimentary of Evans’ performance.
“Brad looks great,” he said. “He looked great in training and he’s been playing that position with the national team a little bit.”
Evans’ comfort in that role may be vital for opening night, but he doesn’t plan on making the position his home. Particularly with the great play of Riley in 2009.
“I think James will be there at right back – he did so well last year,” said Evans, noting that he doesn’t care what role he is in, as long as he is on the field helping the team. “If I find myself at outside right, then by all means. I’ll play anywhere. I think I’m becoming more aware of what I need to do at certain positions. I feel comfortable if I play in the middle or at outside right.”
Seattle has one more tune-up before opening the season March 25 against the Philadelphia Union. They will face the Colorado Rapids in Commerce City, Colorado, on Friday. There will be a live blog of the match at SoundersFC.com.