May 15, 2010.
That’s when a promising season for Brad Evans turned sour.
It was perhaps his best match of the season against the New York Red Bulls at brand new Red Bull Arena. The team was buzzing around a strong Red Bulls team and Evans was playing on top of a 4-3-3 formation. Late in the second half, he took a pass from Tyrone Marshall and lofted a ball to the far post where Fredy Montero touched it down and knocked it into the net for the game-winning score in a 1-0 win that looked like just the catalyst Seattle needed to turn around a slow start.
However, earlier in the match Evans suffered a slight injury to his left knee. Not long after assisting Montero’s goal against New York, Evans went to the ground in pain and exhaustion and was subbed off. He would sit out the next match, but start the final three before the league went on a break for the World Cup.
In that time he tore his right meniscus. Opting for surgery, Evans began the rehab process with an optimistic view, but that turned for the worst when his left knee began to swell.
“I taught myself how to walk without flexing my quad,” Evans said. “That’s how bad it was hurting.”
Overcompensating for his right knee injury presumably caused further damage to his left knee and effectively ended his season just as the Sounders got on a hot streak that saw them eventually go 10-2-3 over the second half of the season.
“Just sitting and watching isn’t something that you want to do. Especially when you’re separated from the team and doing rehab. It’s tough to feel like you’re part of the group,” said Evans, who had his first pain-free training session in over six months when the Sounders opened training camp on Tuesday. “Now it’s just nice to be with the guys.”
Since he joined the Sounders in the 2008 expansion draft, Evans had seen his stock increase for a full year-and-a-half.
He started off his Sounders career strong, scoring the club’s inaugural match and going on to score three goals and assist two more for a Seattle team that reached the playoffs and won the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. His successes earned him an invite to US National Team training camp in the summer, where he made his first of four appearances in the stars and stripes. He made a return to US camp in January before the 2010 season started and rolled right into Sounders FC training camp.
He opened last season with another goal to lift the Qwest Field crowd to its feet. As injuries mounted for the Sounders around him, Evans became a jack-of-all trades for head coach Sigi Schmid and very valuable piece for Seattle as they fought to stay alive in the playoff race.
Then the injury bug bit Evans too and now he is re-starting from scratch as the 2011 season starts.
“It’s great to have him back,” Schmid said. It’s also going to take some time to get his soccer brain back on the field because he’s been back for so long.”
Although he is entrenched in a battle for playing time in the midfield, Evans is not about to rush himself back to the field. With still plenty of time before MLS First Kick on March 15, he has plenty of time to ease himself back into fitness. The most important part for Evans is that he remains healthy.
“Maybe four years ago I would have jumped in and gone a million miles an hour, but after seeing other guys that have come back too early, you just can’t do that,” he said. “The most important thing is just listening to my body at this point. Now, it’s back to the basics and not rushing in to things.”
Schmid is anxious to get a midfielder that he coached for three years with the Columbus Crew back onto the field, but, like Evans himself, knows the virtue of patience in this situation.
He also knows the value of Evans. He was asked by one MLS coach if he realized how much he missed Evans because of his ability to make those late runs in the box that are so hard to defend, but that question was seemingly answered when Schmid and the Sounders protected Evans in the 2010 expansion draft. Even though he was coming off of an injury that knocked him out for 18 games of the MLS season, Schmid and the Sounders didn’t want Evans to get swooped up by the Portland Timbers or Vancouver Whitecaps.
“He doesn’t have the same flare as a Zakuani or a Montero but what he provides for us when he’s in the midfield is that link and that guy who gets in the box late and becomes another scoring threat for us,” Schmid said. “As well as Nate (Sturgis) and Ozzie (Alonso) played together last year, we really didn’t have that penetration from the middle.”
Sticking to an off-season workout program with fitness coach Dave Tenney and the training staff or Randy Noteboom and Chris Cornish, Evans is feeling as good as new, though he is still taking his recovery day-by-day.
Now he is focused on getting himself fit for the 2011 season amidst a battle for playing time in the midfield. And while an injury knocked him out of the starting lineup, he doesn’t feel at all entitled to the position when he is fit to play.
“I don’t feel like that position is mine. I don’t feel like I’ve earned that position at all,” he said. “I want to be playing center mid, but that’s a position that I’ll be fighting three or four guys to play. That’s great for our team, but I’m not going to be satisfied just sitting back and biding my time.”
The Sounders continue training this week with testing at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center on Thursday and Friday before a day off on Saturday. They will depart for Casa Grande, Arizona on Sunday and begin the second leg of training camp later that afternoon.