Photo by John Todd/ISIPhotos.com
By IVES GALARCEP
SEATTLE– Versatility is a trait that can boost any national team prospect’s chances, and two players who have used their versatility to secure roles on the U.S. Men’s National Team are Seattle Sounders teammates Eddie Johnson and Brad Evan.
When the U.S. take on Panama on Tuesday night in CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying, Johnson and Evans stand a very good chance of starting in front of their home fans at CenturyLink Field, and if they do, the chances are they will be playing positions they don’t often play when they are wearing the rave green of the Sounders.
Evans has been one of the biggest surprises during the U.S. team’s recent run of matches since taking over the starting right back role. Normally a midfielder for the Sounders, Evans has looked solid at right back in wins vs. Germany and Jamaica.
Johnson has played as a reserve in the team’s recent matches, but he stands poised to earn a start against Panama, and there is a good chance he will be deployed on the wing, where his speed and ability to beat defenders one-on-one will come in handy against a Panama side expected to bunker in.
Evans’ success at the right back position didn’t come as much of a surprise to Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid, who broached the subject of Evans being a potential right back option with U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann last year. Schmid has seen Evans ability to adapt to new positions all the way back to his days as U.S. Under-20 head coach.
“He’s just one of the players that whatever position you put him in he just, tactically, plays the position pretty much the way it should be played,” Schmid said of Evans. “The only other player I had like that a little bit was Sasha Victorine.
“I’ve played Brad at center forward. I’ve played him at centerback, right midfield, left midfield, center midfield, outside back,” Schmid said. “Whatever position you put him in, he has a pretty good tactical understanding of what needs to happen there. He’s good in a lot of areas.
“What’s hurt him at times is he’s probably not great in any one thing in particular, but he’s so solid in everything else. He’s going to fight and his ability to run and cover ground is also outstanding.”
“It’s just having a positive attitude and being a student of the game and recognizing that that’s my role and embracing it,” Evans said. “In year’s past I really wanted to be a central midfielder, and I thought that’s what I thought I was going to be in this league, but things change, lineups change, coaches change, and things like that.”
When asked about his performances at right back to date, Evans sound like someone who was more concerned with improving than dwelling on what he has done well (such as his stoppage-time game-winning goal to beat Jamaica last Friday).
“I think I did a decent job in the first two games, and obviously can do better on a number of occasions, but that’ll come with time playing the position and learning the position,” Evans said. “Still a student, and still learning, but I’ll always remember (those games).
“Missed passes. A little bit of timing. Tracking runners. For me it’s endless. Those are things that I can remember from games. The ways that I can improve. Not necessarily the good things.”
Johnson’s versatility has also helped him on the national team. Ever since Jurgen Klinsmann deployed him on the left wing in the last round of CONCACAF qualifying, Johnson has blossomed into a regular contributor for the national team, with much of his time coming on the flank.
“When (Johnson) got the call-up with Jurgen to come into the national team one of the things we talked about is you’ve got to do whatever it is he asks you to do,” Schmid said. “You don’t want to say “No, I only do this” or “I only do that”, and take away a chance for yourself. You want to get back into the mix, and once you’re back in the mix things can happen.”
Johnson has taken advantage of his chances to start on the wing, producing two goals and an assist in that role, including his memorable two-goal effort in a qualifying win vs. Antigua & Barbuda last year.
“I’ve played there and I’ve two goals and an assist from playing out wide,” Johnson said. “We’re in this camp for a reason. If the coach is putting me out wide, he does it for a reason, because he sees something in me, or sees that I can be effective out there against the opponent on that given day.
“I like playing with my back to the goal and then sometimes I don’t like playing with my back to goal,” Johnson said. “I just feel like out wide you get to see a lot more of the field. You get to get the ball in positions where you don’t have someone up your back and you’re able to play to your strengths.
“It’s something I’ve worked hard at over the past couple of years and be more consistent.”
With Graham Zusi suspended for Tuesday’s match, Klinsmann could turn to Johnson either as a left winger or right winger. If he does play on the right, he could actually be partnered with Evans.
If the Sounders tandem is called on to start vs. Panama, the packed house at CenturyLink Field will be sure to give Johnson and Evans a warm welcome on a night neither is likely to forget.
“I’ve thought about it and being home will be something that’s extremely special,” Evans said. “Not many players get to experience something like this. My first cap as here with the Gold Cup, so I’ll always remember that one, and this one, playing in a World Cup qualifier hopefully.”