Three Good Questions for: Seattle midfielder Brad Evans

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TUKWILA, Wash. — Splitting his career between Columbus and the Pacific Northwest, Brad Evans has never been in a position to command attention, a status that made him a selection for the U.S. Men’s National Team squad for their World Cup Qualifier in Honduras. For most Major League Soccer fans, Evans is a decent player but not somebody who was on their “USMNT” radars.

Watch Evans over the course of a season and you see values that transcend decent, Take his versatility, for example. Last season, Evans played all across the midfield. He played central defense and fullback. Within games, as Sigi Schmid tried to put Mauro Rosales and Christian Tiffert in their most advantageous positions, Evans filled in the gaps.

We even saw points where Evans became an outright attacking winger, as he did early in Seattle’s Aug. 25 win at Chivas USA. He’s 10th minute goal was one of four he scored last season.

With the acquisition of Shalrie Joseph potentially pushing the 27-year-old out of central midfield, Evans’s versatility may again be tested in 2013. Earlier this week we caught up with Evans to talk about that as part of our Three Good Questions:

You were a guy who performed a lot of different roles last year for the team, filled in where needed. What do you see your role being this year, particularly with the acquisition of Shalrie?

Obviously Shalrie is a tremendous player. [He’s] somebody who, when I first got in the league, was one or maybe two guys who I really looked up to and said if I can model a career after him I’d be doing pretty good. He’s a guy when you’re playing against you say ‘God, I have to play against this guy today. I’ve got to put in my best effort because he’ll make you look stupid.’

To have him on the team is a blessing because he’ll provide either depth or maybe he starts in a starting role and maybe some positions are moved around a little bit. But either way I’ve always been a team-first guy. Wherever I play, I play, and the bottom line is I want to win.

(AUTHOR: Even if that means putting in time at right back?)

Yeah, wherever. Put some gloves on me, man. I just want to win the game. Anything to make the team better is what I’m about.

Now that you’re a part of the national team setup, is where you play a little bit more of a concern?

The first thing they said was versatility is going to be key in moving forward with the national team. You’ve noticed a couple of injuries at right back, with Cherundolo getting injured. Maybe suspensions, something like that. These things are going to happen.

It’s better to be ready and be mentally prepared to play any position. Like I played in the Canada game. I started at center mid then moved and played 45 minutes at right back.

For me, nothing changes. My mindset stays the same. One week I’ll play center mid. Next week, I’ll play center back. Doesn’t matter. I’m going to prepare the same way. I’m going to play the same way.

It’s about being a student of the game, most importantly. Hopefully, it pays off.

All the West’s powers have had turnover this year except for San Jose, and they’ve got half their team injured, it seems like. How do you assess the West from your point of view, particularly those top four teams?

It’s tough to assess. Some fans will look at it [and say] ‘We beat Salt Lake twice this preseason, so that’s a wash. We’ll beat them three times.’ That’s just not how it is.

Teams get hot at different times. People will get healthy at the right time. I’m sure we’ll have our injuries througout the season.

It’s a long season. You try not to approach it and look at the big picture too much. We like to focus on this Saturday.

In the past, that’s benefitted us. We’ll focus on what lies ahead, and then if we get closer to Supporters’ Shield or regaining the Open Cup – wherever it is, then we’ll look at that when it comes.

Right now, I’d like to be focused on what he have here, try to build our team, and when we cross that path, we’ll deal with it then.

With Osvaldo Alonso suspended for the season opener, Evans will likely be in his customary central midfield position Saturday against Monday. He’ll probably see time at right back, once Sharlie Joseph is match fit in a month. You’ll see him play wide in midfield, and those one or two times randomness rears it’s mercurial head this season, you’ll see him in central defense.

That might mean his contributions get overlooked, but it also means he has a route into the national team.

Pay attention: This time, a Seattle Sounders, Spain-based player rumor has some real legs

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Here we go again.

I say that because Seattle has already been linked to a player out of Spain, but after a year of seeing another La Liga-based rumor bled until it wilted, we should approach this with a note of caution. The transfer of midfielder Joan Verdu from Espanyol got more traction in fantasy than real worlds. How do we know Javier Saviola’s rumored move won’t be the same?

First, the rumor: Saviola, a former Argentina international, is supposed to move to Seattle this summer. The 31-year-old former Barcelona and Real Madrid attacker just moved from Benfica to Málaga this summer and is second to only Isco in league goals for the club. Counting Champions League and Copa del Rey, Saviola has seven goals in 26 games, a relatively low ratio for a starting forward.

There are a couple of reasons this one makes more sense than Verdu. First, it’s being reported by TyC Sports in Argentina, a respected (though far from irreproachable source). Second, Saviola is out of contract in four months, having moved to Málaga on a one-year deal. Third, Saviola is at a place in his career where a move to Major League Soccer makes sense. Fourth, he fits a need, one that Seattle doesn’t appear to otherwise be filling. Finally, this one is being reported with confidence. Saviola’s supposedly set to be Seattle’s next Designated Player.

Almost none of those things were true for Verdu. Most of the Verdu reports were tenuous links that seemed to serve alternative club and agent purposes. Verdu’s contract also runs until this summer, meaning at the time rumors were most intense, he would have required a transfer fee. Still 29, a regular starter in midfield, and the team’s leading goal scorer (seven in 22 games), Verdu wouldn’t be short of options if he wanted to leave Espanyol. He’d also be moving to a team that has Ozzie Alonso, Brad Evans, Christian Tiffert and (relevant to how he could be used) Mauro Rosales.

So while there is a bit of de ja vu to this, there may always be a tedium to stories about Seattle’s open Designated Player spots. It’s an ambitious team with lots of money and (perhaps most importantly to this discussion) has its activities picked through with a fine-tooth comb. We’re going to constantly hear rumors surrounding the Sounders. Some will stick. Some won’t. Some make sense. Others don’t.

But whereas the Verdu rumor always seemed thin and never made complete sense, Saviola’s is the opposite. There’s a good source attaching an available player to a team with a need. It’s not difficult to see Saviola connecting with Eddie Johnson later this summer.

Sounders FC didn’t comment to local media about the speculation, so you’re just going to have to content yourself with highlights of Saviola’s Saturday goal against Athletic Bilbao, with the Andalusians winning 1-0 ahead of their mid-week, Champions League meeting against FC Porto:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIf4SB0X8S4]

Questions to answer in MLS preseason camp: Seattle Sounders

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(Through the week we’ll look at three Major League Soccer clubs per day, considering what they need to accomplish and what questions deserve answers during preseason training camps. Opening day in MLS is March 2.)

Seattle finally flung one monkey off its back in 2012 when the club saw its first postseason triumph. Unfortunately, the glow of their Western Conference semifinal win over Real Salt Lake lasted only a few days, their lopsided loss at Home Depot Center three days later recasting the club’s lingering question: Can the team get done it in the playoffs?

It’s a strange, old-timey question that invites quips about sample size and confirmation bias. Regardless, the critique remains: One of the most talented teams in Major League Soccer has yet to truly push for an MLS Cup, something fans noticed after the team fell flat in LA.

This year, despite some major departures, expectations are the same. Seattle wants to content for this year’s title.

Here are some questions that will need to be answered:

  • Who replaces Fredy Montero?

You know he would have given you double-digit goals. And you know he would have been one of the team’s assists leaders. But now that Fredy Montero’s gone, you know Seattle have to replace him.

David Estrada’s work rate and versatility make him a good complement to Eddie Johnson, but Mauro Rosales could also be slid into a true No. 10’s role. Mario Martínez can come in, as could Steve Zakuani. You could even push Christen Tiffert forward while deploying Brad Evans in central midfield.

It’s too early to tell what Sigi Schmid will do, but he has options. The Sounder boss may need a few months of regular season play to see how his team develops.

  • Can Christian Tiffert’s adjustment continue?

Dropped into Major League Soccer half way through last season, the former Kaiserslautern midfielder went through an adjustment period, often struggling with the physicality of the whistle-shy league. By the end of the season, Tiffert’s game had adjusted, but his body had not. He seemed rundown by pace and intensity of the league’s last three months.

Amid all those hurdles, Tiffert showed skills that could perfectly complement Osvaldo Alonso’s, his ability to get to and win second balls rounding out what could be MLS’s best midfield. But with Fredy Montero gone, Tiffert’s going to have more of a presence going forward, adding the ability to create through the middle to his already excellent crossing.

  • Will Jeff Parke be missed?

Salary cap issues meant something had to give. Unfortunately, that meant more than losing Fredy Montero. Seattle also lots their best defender, with Jeff Parke traded to Philadelphia in December.

Patrick Ianni looks set to slide in next to Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, but with Parke gone, the performances of Alonso and goalkeeper Michael Gspurning become even more important. Last year, the duo were the key components of the league’s second-best defense, but with Parke gone, we’ll see how valuable to new Union defender was to last year’s success.

MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:

Up Next: Sporting Kansas City

Mauro Rosales also being linked with move out of Seattle

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This report (read: rumor) came down last week, but with Fredy Montero inching closer to a return home, it’s important to note Mauro Rosales is not guaranteed to be back in Seattle (even if this isn’t the freshest of rumors). The Argentine winger has been linked with a move to Chile, with Union Española thought keen to draw the Sounders playmaker back to South America.

The report here (in Spanish) isn’t much. It’s just restating a report aired by Cooperativa program Al Aire Libre, and without more detail than a few perfunctory paragraphs, it’s hard to give this rumor heavy consideration.

There are, however, a few talking points surrounding a hypothetical Rosales sale:

How does this dovetail with the possible loss of Fredy Montero?

At first blush, you’d think Adrian Hanauer and Sigi Schmid would resist losing both Montero and Rosales at the same time. That’s a lot of playmaking leaving at once, though given the circumstances surrounding the two players, the potential moves can’t be linked.

On their own merits, sales of Montero and Rosales could make sense, and with Seattle’s economic ability to draw more designated players, these type of South American stars aren’t as scarce for the Sounders as they would be for other clubs.

Montero and Seattle seem to be parting ways regardless. The Colombian’s expressed a desire to move back into frame for his national team, but a move to Europe may also be in the cards. A loan deal to Millionarios in Bogata would serve as a shop window. If he does well in Copa Libertadores, he could could vault himself to a place like Portugal. Twenty-four and having spent four years in Seattle, it’s time for him to make this move.

Mauro Rosales is at another point of his career cycle. He’s descending. While the Argentine is still an elite playmaker in Major League Soccer, he’s also somebody highly unlikely to stay healthy throughout an entire season. For a team that is in Champions League in spring and takes U.S. Open Cup more seriously than most, wear-and-tear is an issue. If Seattle can get some minor cash for the to be 32-year-old (and free up a Designated Player slot), it may make sense to cash in.

While you wouldn’t want to lose either Montero or Rosales, two independent sets of circumstances could lead to the loss of both – the sensible loss of both. Though that would leave Christian Tiffert as the club’s best playmaker (a precarious situation given Tiffert still has to grow into the league), Seattle’s highly unlikely to go very long with only one Designated Player in their squad.

But Chile? Why would an Argentine who’s played for Newell’s Old Boys, Ajax, and Boca Juniors end up in Chile?

That Rosales is being linked to Union Española and not clubs like Boca Juniors, Estudiantes, or San Lorenzo tells a small story of the changing South American soccer landscape.

Slowly, the Argentine league has lost some footing in the region. Economic troubles at home combined with the buying power of Brazil means not only is the gap between the two leagues growing, but it gives Brazil the ablity to draw away much of the talent that would otherwise be playing in Argentina.

The effects of that dynamic have been felt in Chile. Talent which Argentina would previously lure east is (in rare cases) going to Brazil, jumping straight to Europe, or just staying home. Combined with the organic growth of the league, Chile’s league is no longer so far behind Argentina’s.

In some cases, the Chilean Primera can compete for a player like Rosales – somebody who may not attract top dollar but still has options.

Why would Seattle do this?

There are a number of subtle reasons Seattle might consider this move (regardless of what happens to Montero):

  • As mentioned above, there are health concerns with Rosales, a player that’s broken down at the end of each of the last two seasons. While he may still be worth his salary, Designated Player spots are scarce. And Seattle has the ability to go and get another Designated Player.
  • Seattle will be able to compete without Rosales. They’d still have Eddie Johnson, Steve Zakuani, Christian Tiffert, Osvaldo Alonso … Mario Martinez (if he doesn’t leave for Turkey), David Estrada, and Sigi Schmid favorite Andy Rose. They’d still be competitive even if they don’t sign more Designated Players.
  • And they will sign replacement Designated Players. Every indication out of Seattle is they’d look to replace Montero and/or Rosales. These moves would be an opportunity to cash in and reload, to a certain extent.
  • Seattle does have some salary cap concerns, a situation not helped by failing to qualify for the next CONCACAF Champions League. Even if they replaced Montero and Rosales with other Designated Players, allocation earned through their sales will help.

He may not be glamorous, but Tiffert should improve Seattle

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Sigi Schmid talked up Andy Rose every chance he could. Two weeks ago, the Sounders’ head coach claimed the first year midfielder out of UCLA should get consideration for Rookie of the Year, something that makes today’s signing just a little bit curious. Why would Seattle feel the need to augment midfield if they had a Rookie of the Year-candidate paired with all-star Osvaldo Alonso?

It’s a trick question (Rose isn’t a Rookie of the Year candidate), but the point remains the same: Seattle didn’t need to sign former Kaiserslautern midfielder Christian Tiffert as a designated player. In fact, at first blush the signing seems a stretch, the East German-born Tiffert is not exactly profiling as the type of player that would spur a three-DP team to trade one of its big ticket items. A decent Bundesliga midfielder who posted one assist for Germany’s last place team doesn’t usually merit a trip to the bank. Playing in the 2. Bundesliga as recently as 2009-10 and having scored only 19 goals in 12 professional seasons, Tiffert’s probably not German for “scarce commodity.”

But once he’s signed, the designated player debate ends. The more interesting discussion centers around Tiffert’s on-field effects, which brings us back to Rose and (somebody who should have been mentioned earlier) Brad Evans. Both incumbent Sounders are solid players, but neither can really be thought of as progressive players. In this context, I use progressive to mean a player who, after receiving the ball, is going to make a decision that’s likely to significantly improve their team’s chances of scoring a goal.

Rose and Evans are reliable options to occupy the space in front of Alonso, but if you’re looking for a guy to make that final pass – to read Eddie Johnson’s movements and know to thread that pass to beat defenders – they’re not it. They occupy space, don’t make mistakes – they’re fine. But they’re also part of the reason Fredy Montero is so important to the Sounders. He’s a forward who drops into a high midfield position to serve as Seattle’s playmaker. When Montero isn’t in the team, Mauro Rosales moves into the middle, dropping into spaces you rarely see Rose or Evans venture.

Tiffert is not a number 10, but he is somebody who can make good, progressive decisions on the ball. Slotted in for Rose or Evans, he immediately improves the team, and with Álvaro Fernández (traded to Chicago to make room for Tiffert) getting no more playing time than Alex Caskey, Seattle’s only sacrifice was a high-priced player who was fighting for playing time.

It’s a shame Fernández fits that label three years into his MLS career. For whatever reason, he never worked in Seattle, even during a 2011 season which saw him register nine goals. During that run, there was a feeling he was finally “getting it” – adjusting to Sigi Schmid’s vision for him. This season, however, he went near-half the season without scoring. Schmid commended recent improvement that saw “Flaco” score twice, but his place in the pecking order was unchanged. Fernández was the third of three designated players – the man who had to move if Seattle was going to bring in another big ticket item. The second designated player to move from Seattle to Chicago (following the footsteps of Freddie Ljundberg), Fernández still has the talent to be an MLS star.

As for the man taking his slot, Tiffert’s two seasons since returning to the Bundesliga leave a lot open to interpretation. He registered 17 assists in 2010-11, leading the league. Last year, his stats fell off a cliff. People who want this signing to work will look at 2010-11. Critics will dwell on last season.

Beyond the numbers, Tiffert’s a solid player who can be trusted to make good decisions on the ball. That includes taking advantage of opponents’ mistakes, something neither Rose nor Evans could so. Will Tiffert create those mistakes? Unless he finds another level in MLS, probably not. But if Johnson continues his run of form and Montero is liberated by a more effective central midfield, Tiffert will improve Seattle.

At 30 years old and without a senior national team appearance, Tiffert’s probably not the player people envision when they think designated player. But that’s done. Until another transfer window opens, what matters is how Tiffert fits into Sigi Schmid’s team. On that front, there’s a lot for Seattle fans to like about this deal.