Versatility paves way for dream USMNT homecoming for Sounders duo

Brad Evans Eddie Johnson

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.”

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43 Responses to Versatility paves way for dream USMNT homecoming for Sounders duo

  1. FCA says:

    Did everyone forget that beas is normally a left mid and FJ has impressed more as a left back than his showings in the midfield?

    ——–altidore———
    Beas—demps—-e.j.
    ——–cam–MB—-
    F.J—besler–OG–Evans
    ———Howard———

    Best possible line-up

    • rph says:

      Yeah, I’ve been wondering if I’m the only one who’s been wondering about DMB and Johnson switching.

      • Barack Obama says:

        I was wondering if other people wonder what I wonder, especially when i watch the Bolton Wanderers

    • kmac014 says:

      I agree, maybe Corona for E johnson, idk about Evans but don’t think we really have anyone else

    • pancholama says:

      Dig it! Right on, right on, right on.

    • jlm says:

      davis for beasley to provide the same type of service that zusi has been providing from the right

    • Fred says:

      OG are not good initials to have if you’re a central defender. Call him Omar or something else. You might jinx him.

  2. byrdman says:

    Forgive me, I am just starting to understand some of the tactical side of the game. If Panama bunkers, will there be space for EJ to use his speed? Seems to me that the offensive third will be compressed with, the defense laying very deep, and not much chance of getting behind anyone.

    Your insights would be appreciated. I feel I’m missing something obvious..

    • Squatchy? says:

      My thinking is that the US will be very aggressive early on. Even more so than usual in a home game. With no Blas Perez, Panama’s strategy has probably changed to become even more conservative than they were already going to be. I would say the counter to that would be for the US to be ultra aggressive from the start. If they are going to park the bus, make them do it for 90 minutes.

      If that does turn out to be the US strategy, then I do think that EJ’s speed can still be beneficial early on. I doubt that Panama is going to play 10 men back from the start, so I would say that EJ’s speed has the best chance to pay off in the first 30 minutes or, when Panama is still daring to move forward before packing in the defense.

      Honestly, even if it turns out that Panama does go the super conservative route and parks the bus early, then the threat of EJ’s speed can still help by not allowing Panama to move forward on a counter.

      The way I see it, speed will never be a negative. You are right that he might not have as many opportunities, but I think the best chance is to use it early on.

      • OPMG says:

        Speed will never be a negative, but it can be mitigated by packing it in and sitting deep. Johnson relies heavily on his speed to create, if Panama is parking the bus it’s going to take more than a fast runner to break them down.

        • divers suck says:

          If Panama chooses to park the bus, remember that Josy and EJ along with Dempsey are huge aerial threats also. You can only play so many players in the back before the hack game starts, leading to more set pieces and possibly PKs. There is really little good that comes out of parking the bus for 90 minutes….

    • chris says:

      Thats a great question. I think you’re dead on, his speed in a tight final third is somewhat useless. By the time he gets up to speed he is dribbling the ball over the endline.

      I think this is a big problem with this team. When we aren’t clicking and playing more of a half court style (as opposed to counter attack ball) speed really does very little. Zusi is somewhat ineffective in this half court set up (the running Zusi and not the service Zusi). Players like Brad Davis become more effective since you have overlapping backs that are at speed and are difficult to track. Davis or Zusi can lay the ball off, bring the ball inside for a shot, or if they have space they have the ability to hit a decent cross. This really makes them effective. Know I know Zusi isn’t playing and EJ may have to fill that roll His awareness in this situation kinda scares me, as does his service. Yes, he is athletic, but I think Americans overestimate that attribute. Just look at David Beckham. Not the most athletic player, won’t dribble past people, but he’s so smart it makes up for it.

    • Amru says:

      That is my reasoning for not starting EJ as well, his speed will be pretty ineffective against a bunkered opponent. If I had to choose I would give corona the start.

    • Twomilerule says:

      Huh? If they bunker EJ’s speed will be negated! The defenders will be sure to keep a line around both boxes. US needs wingers who can whip in an accurate cross or pick out open diagonal runs. Wingers who can hold and dribble in space and work combo passes in small spaces with Dempsey and Altidore.
      Speed could be good for long balls but I expect the US to try and possess the ball. Without JJ those defensive third balls to the offensive third will be lacking.
      EJ is great going forward in space, there is a reason he is the MLS

    • PetedeLA says:

      You guys are forgetting that Johnson is a big boy.

      If you have a very technical team (like Barcelona) then that is your best option against bunkering.

      But if you don’t, you want to have a diverse attack.

      You want to constantly change things up. Switch sides, short passes, crosses, and one on one dribbling.

      We will probably find the most success with accurate crosses into the box. Altidore and Dempsey are both excellent headers of the ball.

      But to keep the defenses honest, you want to threaten their flanks.

      Of course, Johnson will get marked heavily when he tries to dribble into the box. But for every time he gets stripped cleanly, he will probably also draw a foul. This can set up excellent free kick situations for our big men. Also… if the same defenders keep fouling, they will eventually collect cautions, and will be forced to lighten their marking. A passer on one side and a dribbler on the other is never a bad way to go (see Giggs/Beckham).

    • Iggy says:

      Somewhat true, but EJ is also very good in the air, and if Panama is bunkering the US will likely have a lot of corners etc where he could grab a chance (more so than a guy like Corona).

      also his speed could still create small 1 / 2s around the box to break the bunker.

      The best guys at breaking bunkers are ones that are real crafty types/can create for themselves.

    • wfrw07 says:

      Something to be said for that, but I think that EJ’s versatility can still be an asset. He is pretty good in the air, can play on both wings, and depending on the flow can easily move up as a striker in a 4-4-2 (moving Deuce to the right wing for a spell).

      Corona might be a better RM/RW than Johnson, but that is all he is. If after 60 minutes, EJ isn’t working I think it is a lot easier to bring in a Corona or Davis to do the things Johnson struggles with than vice versa, since when EJ would come in as a sub on the wing, Panama would probably be even more compact with the point closer in sight.

    • beachbum says:

      just as a quick counter to the why nots, a good quality in beating a bunker is aerial victories, and EJ brings that.

      the thing that’s intersting also is IF EJ starts out wide, what formation does Klinnsman choose? I don’t think EJ has played that spot in a 4 4 2, at least not for the Nats. It’s different than in a 4 3 3 or a 4 2 3 1 like he’s been dployed in. not saying he can’t do it but it’s a different challenge, will truly test his versatility. I think he’s best off the bench for this team tho, his versatility allowing Klinnsman options with how he uses him depending on how the game goes

    • chris_thebassplayer says:

      If they compress and limit the space behind the D, he will still be useful as a physical presence in the box. He has great hops and an ability to use his speed to get open for crosses in the box. I wouldn’t be surprised if he heads one in. If we can score first, they’ll need to open up, which would be a great opportunity for him to use his speed in the open field.

    • Charles says:

      Sure, but nobody gets higher up for headers than EJ however.

  3. BDWG81 says:

    If it were up to Sigi, it would be Evans and 3 other players on the field, from the sounds of it.

  4. Dinho says:

    Funny thing is, Brad played up front and attacking center mid in college. Great guy and hard worker. Zot Zot.

  5. Guest says:

    I want to see 6 points from these next two qualifiers in June. We should handily defeat the Panamanians at home in Seattle, no points should be dropped at home, no excuses.

    • LIl' Zeke says:

      While hopefully not applicable, I think myocardial infarction would be an acceptable excuse

    • PD says:

      Have you ever seen Panama play? This will not be a cakewalk.

      • You are absolutely right,so fast they are becoming another football,(Soccer,or World Football) Nation.I’m just thinking it’s going to be a tough game for the US.,but I’m not to worry,I’m confident in a good end result and waiting for the game to start.
        ER.

  6. Cairo says:

    People like to criticize Brad Evans, but that guy is SOLID. Someone who is tactically aware and can run all day should always have a place on the US Bench, if not on the field itself. Was a fan before, and am more so now.

  7. PD says:

    Can someone tell me why Seattle is a turf field? Is it because it’s multi-purposed with the Seahawks? I know it rains a lot, but England isn’t exactly the desert, and they aphave figured out ways to keep a pitch playable in a soggy climate…

    I’m not whining, I’m really curious.

    • Bean says:

      Seattle Seahawks.

    • Dos a Cero says:

      If Chelsea or Man U had their own American Football teams playing through the winter months at their stadiums they’d have field turf too.

    • pancholama says:

      There is apparently a real grass sod carpet that has been laid down over the artificial turf – it is a bit choppy, but serviceable.

    • Chris says:

      I think its a question of how reasonable it is to keep maintained. The MLS and NFL seasons only overlap for a few games at the end of the year. But its not just soggy in the winters, its also actually very dry here in the summers. No one in the area tries to maintain grass fields here. All the schools and facilities (save for a few that only allow people to play on their grass fields a few months out of the year) have turf.

      I was actually kind of angry when I went to the game on Saturday and saw the grass laid out. People were sliding all over and it was clear that the sod wasn’t completely set. People knock on turf all the time but the new stuff that is coming out is really not that much different and isn’t a major detriment to the quality of the game.

      What IS a major detriment is rolling in these sod fields for a week and creating terrible surfaces for everyone. I would be very surprised if you don’t see people sliding and falling all over tomorrow.

      • Charles says:

        And by a few games at the end of the year, you mean the NFL preseason starts in Aug and the MLS playoffs run to Dec….virtually the whole NFL regular season and preseason.

    • Clayton says:

      Over the past two years the UW Huskies have also played their home games at CL, so you’re talking about 14 games between September and January (plus some high school games). Additionally, the physical structure of the stadium is such that it blocks out a good portion of the little sunlight that Seattle gets. It also sounds like a lot of the measures required to install grass in CL would put the field out of commission for several months and as it stands the stadium gets pretty steady use year-round

  8. Bean says:

    You don’t have to be good, you just have to be lucky, and hard working.

  9. Andrew in tally says:

    You guys are over thinking this. If panama bunkers in we are going need width,someone who can get past the Fb and cross. Ej is among the best one on one players on this team. He also has great chemistry with Dempsey. brad Davis has struggled to create space to cross the ball. Zusi finally started creating that space in the last two games.lets hope we can score at least twice before halftime. I am tired of one goal leads.makes me tired after watching the game.

  10. Mark says:

    That really stinks that there is an attendance cap!

    No one at the the US Soccer Federation could have figured this out beforehand?!?!

    We could have played Panama in Utah on the 11th and then Honduras in Seattle on the 18th when the Mariners are playing in Anaheim, CA!

    This is also a lot of lost revenue!

    Very poor planning. C’mon Sunil!

    • Charles says:

      Hmm, the cap is there for the tickets are $100 each, rather than $50. 2/3rds or $100 is more than 100% of $50.

      The Mariners 5k fans will not influence my decision as to when to leave for the game even by one minute.

  11. Dennis says:

    If Panama bunkers, the US defense will not be often challenged for possession and that is a good thing for the US. Besler, Evans and Beasley have the speed to get back on counters and Omar can win a lot of the aerial balls into the box. I would be more worried if Panama came out with high pressure and tried to unsettle the back 4, MB and whoever starts for JJ (assuming the reported concussion will keel him out). Absent that pressure, MB and Evans can provide good long service and Johnson&Johnson can dribble at people.