KINGSTON, Jamaica – The winds of change swept over the US national team's central defense in recent months, and now circumstances have brought them next door to the right back spot.
Converted midfielder Brad Evans was one of the last players called into the current US camp. But on Wednesday, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said he “is in the driver's seat” for the starting right back role against Jamaica on Friday (9:30 pm ET, beIN Sport, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), leaping from the back of the depth chart queue to a prominent role in World Cup qualifying thanks to timing, skills set and “a very confident approach” to the task.
It may appear fortuitous. But Klinsmann said it's an intuitive idea he has been mulling for his entire US tenure. He broached the topic with his friend Sigi Schmid on a recent visit to a Seattle Sounders match at CenturyLink Field, in a conversation that reveals Klinsmann's eagerness to find a place in the lineup for the utility man from Phoenix.
“I said, 'Sigi, I really see him as a right back. He's not pushing [central midfielders] Michael Bradley or Jermaine Jones out of the team,'" recalled Klinsmann. "I think on the wing, we would really like to build on Graham Zusi, build on real wingers in that way."
The Sounders coach replied that he had not done so at the club level due to the club's grooming of Homegrown signing DeAndre Yedlin. But he fully agreed that Evans had the necessary blend of range, versatility and technique to handle what he calls “one of the most demanding roles of the modern game,” and expressed enthusiam at the idea of Evans spending possibly up to more than a month on international duty – and thus away from his club – this summer.
“A fullback nowadays turns almost into a little bit of a playmaker role. He will decide games in the way they fill in – that means defensively how they connect with the center backs, how they connect with the right or even the center midfielders,” explained Klinsmann, sketching out his vision for his team's outside backs in a half-hour conversation with reporters on Wednesday. “So everywhere there are triangles to be built. But if he understands his role and has the technical abilities to go forward, he becomes almost like a winger.
“The modern teams, starting 10, 12, 14 years ago, they wanted fullbacks to join in, to play one-twos, to overlap, to cross, to assist goals or maybe even possibly to score goals. And therefore you need to have a really complete game. You need to be technically very gifted if you want to play that attacking role of a fullback, you need to have vision, you need to be strong one against one both ways. And you need to understand what the center backs are doing.”
Evans said he was sitting down to lunch on a day off in Seattle when Klinsmann called him with the news of his call-up, and was almost hungry enough to ignore his ringing phone. But he picked up, and thus heard the good news – including the less familiar position he would need to play – from the US coach himself.
“It's always, I guess, refreshing when you hear from Jurgen,” said Evans. “It's always positive and it's always a lot of laughing on the phone, and whether there's a joke to be said, it doesn't even matter, it's just a lot of happiness.
“He told me, 'This is your opportunity, if you take hold of it now and make it yours, it's got potential.' But obviously there's still a ton to learn – there's so much I need to learn about the position, especially at the highest level.”
Evans' display in last Sunday's 4-3 triumph against Germany has helped him displace Geoff Cameron from the lineup – rough justice given that Klinsmann regards Cameron (right) as a center back at heart who has been used as a “traditional” defense-first right back at Stoke City FC.
“He suffers that situation, and we feel bad about it,” Klinsmann said of Cameron. “We always said that he is the stronger center back. He is a very, very strong center back. But now having not played center back ... eventually, [he must] get the center back job at Stoke.
“So the two guys [Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth] that play there – one is German – you've got to kick them out...he knew that he fills in for us in a role that is not his best. You always lose that couple of percent moving to a secondary position. And Brad said, 'I can play it. I understand that role.' … He had a very confident approach to it.'”
The US boss praised longtime starter Steve Cherundolo, but explained that he and Timmy Chandler, like others in the player pool, cannot fight for the spot in absentia.
“Always the players have the advantage that are actually here. Simple as that,” said Klinsmann. “For whatever reasons players were not here, are not here, it puts the other ones in the driver's seat.
“Stevie can't be here, the reasons, we know. 'Brad, it's here, it's for you.' Certain players we were surprised how quickly they become a starter. ...They need to learn to understand momentum. It's Brad Evans' momentum in a certain way. Understand, this is your opportunity now. Then the other ones are behind, and they have to steal it back from you.”