Brad Evans, Eddie Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin all had very different experiences wearing the U.S. National Team jersey for the first time. But the pride they all take in wearing the Stars and Stripes is a common thread in their tales.
There is no greater celebration of the Stars and Stripes of the U.S. flag than on the Fourth of July. Independence Day is a day filled with all of the regalia of Americana and Sounders FC midfielder Brad Evans got the ultimate in honors on July 4, 2009.
On that evening, Evans first donned the U.S. National Team jersey, entering a match in the CONCACAF Gold Cup match against Grenada in the 63rd minute. Filled with pride and adrenaline and playing in front of his home crowd at CenturyLink Field, Evans raced onto the field when his name was called over the stadiums public address system and was immediately whistled back to the sideline and shown a yellow card for entering the match early.
He now laughs at the moment, calling it “the fastest yellow card in soccer history.” In reality, though, it is just a tiny blip on his memory of his first cap for the U.S. National Team.
“It was really special. Looking back on it now, I don’t think I realized the magnitude and what it could lead to,” Evans said. “Putting on the jersey on 4th of July in front of your home crowd … it’s the stuff you dream of. It was really special.”
Evans and Eddie Johnson both are now back with Sounders FC after an extended stint with the national team in the FIFA World Cup qualifying tournament with both playing a prominent role in the U.S. racing to the top of standings in the Hexagonal Round. Along with DeAndre Yedlin, who was away with the U.S. U-20 National Team at the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey, the three had very different tales of their first big match in a U.S. jersey, but the pride each took in pulling on the shirt and wearing the badge of U.S. Soccer resonates in all of their stories.
For each player, their national team debut is something special. Johnson made certain that he wouldn’t be the only person to remember his senior national team debut though.
Joining up with a team that included veterans like Claudio Reyna, Eddie Pope and Brian McBride, Johnson was a wide-eyed 20-year-old ready to soak up anything they were willing to offer. He did that and more as the U.S. took on El Salvador in a World Cup qualifying match in 2004, coming on late in the match to score a late insurance goal to send the U.S. to a 2-0 win. Three days later, he again came on as a second-half substitute and this time netted a hat trick in a 6-0 win over Panama at RFK Stadium.
Suddenly the young phenom who made 53 appearances at the U-17, U-20 and U-23 levels was in the spotlight with four goals in two appearances.
“It was very overwhelming. There were a lot of guys that you wanted to play with and I just wanted to soak it up,” Johnson said. “I went from this kid with a lot of potential to the next big thing in America.”
For all that those experiences offered, scoring in a 2-0 win over Panama at CenturyLink Field after a resurgence that had him back in the national team picture after a two-year hiatus gave him just as much pride as his impressive debut week.
“Playing for your country is something that everybody wants to do and not a lot of people get the chance to do it,” he said. “I’m blessed to put the jersey on, but more than anything, playing against Panama in front of my home fans was my most memorable time I’ve ever had wearing a U.S. jersey.”
Johnson now has 53 caps and 15 goals with the national team and his meteoric rise and recent tale of redemption have provided plenty of ups and downs.
For Evans, it has been a steady climb to a regular role. After his debut against Grenada back in 2009, he was in and out of the picture with the national team. A midfielder by trade, Evans has been used as something of a utility player on the international stage, playing all across the midfield and as a right back. The latter would prove to be where he would earn the most playing time, though. Using time in two January camps, the 28-year-old Evans learned the right back position and was fluent enough in the role to be entrusted with a starting position in key matches against Jamaica, Panama and Honduras last month. The results speak for themselves as the U.S. allowed just one goal in going 3-0-0 in those three matches. He also scored the game-winning goal in stoppage time against Jamaica for the first ever American win in Jamaica in a World Cup qualifier.
And it was that experience with the Gold Cup in 2009 and the January camps – which carry a stigma among some circles because players from Europe typically are in-season and don’t attend the camp – that provided him with the opportunity to excel.
“It’s easy for guys to say that it’s just a Cupcake Camp and that it’s just this, that and the other because there is such a pedestal for European soccer – which there should be. But at the same time, for those that haven’t played in a number of national team games,” Evans said. “It’s an experience that we all want and that’s why you play the game. At the time, that’s the highest level and that’s why we play. If it’s January camp where you only get one game at the end of three weeks or if it’s a World Cup qualifier, you play with the same passion. It’s a special opportunity.”
Yedlin began his journey toward those opportunities last month in Turkey. The 19-year-old defender made his international debut in a friendly against Portugal, then earned a starting role in the U-20 World Cup. Playing half a world away in Istanbul, Yedlin was surprised to hear the fans in the stadium rooting for the Stars and Stripes when they took on Spain in their first Group Stage match.
The chants came cascading down from the stands.
“U! S! A! … U! S! A!” the Turkish fans chanted, hoping to see an upset over Spain.
“It’s pretty amazing. It didn’t really hit me until we were out in the huddle for the first game,” he said. “It was a pretty amazing, humbling experience.”
For all three, the recent experience was a memorable one. But all three also were left wanting more.
That’s a small part of the honor of wearing the national team jersey. It’s a feeling that a player never wants to lose.
“This last month has been one that I’ll always remember, but it’s one that I want to keep building on,” Evans said. “Things are going well and it’s important to stay hungry.”