TUKWILA, Wash. – Finding a way to increase depth at central defender has been one of the highest priorities on the Seattle Sounders' offseason wish list.
Now, it appears they may be trying to address the issue from within.
Throughout the offseason, the Sounders have found themselves facing an interesting dichotomy at the position. On one hand, they boast one of the most consistent and dominant central defenders in MLS in reigning Defender of the Year Chad Marshall. However, exactly who will slide in as the starter beside Marshall has been one of the prevailing question marks of Seattle’s preseason.
After a down season last year in which he struggled to stay healthy, veteran Djimi Traore retired. Ageless wonder Zach Scott played admirably after assuming the starting spot for the latter part of the season and playoffs and will return to the Sounders in 2015, but he is nonetheless 34 and underwent foot surgery in the offseason.
Enter Brad Evans, one of the most versatile players on Seattle’s roster and one who has shown throughout his career in MLS and on the US men’s national team that he has an uncanny ability to adapt and play new positions. Although he played predominately as a midfielder last season, Evans has played right back for both Seattle and the USMNT in the past.
Now, it seems the 29-year-old veteran may be switching positions once again. In two preseason scrimmages against UCLA and the LA Galaxy, Evans was handed the start at center back beside Marshall by head coach Sigi Schmid.
Experimental? Maybe. But if Evans can demonstrate that his adaptable nature can extend to Seattle’s central defense, then the Sounders may have found their solution without having to make any big trades or additional signings.
“I think there’s a lot of things you can take from kind of just being tactically aware,” Evans said of his latest position switch after Seattle’s training session at Starfire Soccer Complex on Monday. “Only time will tell how it goes. But the good thing is I can play other positions as well. So if something happens where they don’t like what they see, I’m sure they’ll make a swift change. But as of right now, the whole preseason I’ve been playing [center back].”
Schmid said the move is a work in progress, but seemed to indicate that the Sounders are fully prepared to hand Evans the reins at center back if they like what they see.
“He’s always dropped back [to center back] at times in practice,” Schmid said. “He’s played there at times even in training with the national team and way back with me with the Under-20s. So it’s just a matter of getting comfortable. Some of your instincts are a little bit different back there than in the midfield.”
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Schmid also said that part of the incentive to fill the void with Evans is that it could give the Sounders flexibility to address other parts of the roster, making it a smart move as he and new general manager Garth Lagerwey work to figure out exactly how to allocate the team’s resources going forward.
“When we’re looking at a roster and we’re looking at where we want spend money, we felt like ‘OK, let’s try [Evans at center back] because then that’s an area of the team that we don’t need to spend money on,” Schmid said. “We can basically plug another hole in the team if we feel that exists.’”
Both Schmid and Evans acknowledged there is still work to be done as far as pinning down the nuances of the position. But for now, Evans says he is just fine with the challenge of taking on one of the most demanding positions on the field while he trains against one of the most prolific attacks in the league.
“[It helps] training against [forward Obafemi Martins] every single day and Lamar [Neagle] and Chad Barrett and those guys who are known for their goalscoring abilities and movement,” Evans said. “It’s been difficult but it’s been a good challenge that I’ve been looking forward to.”