IRVINE, Calif. -- Brad Evans is excited about the chance to go up against Mexico in the biggest encounter between the region's powers since the 2002 World Cup, but Saturday's CONCACAF Cup showdown at the Rose Bowl isn't all that has him pumped.
The Seattle Sounders captain has been enjoying a homecoming of sorts as the US national team prepares for the clash (9 pm ET, FS1), which will determine CONCACAF's representative at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia, at UC Irvine, his alma mater.
“It's phenomenal,” Evans said before the Yanks embarked on the first of two training sessions Wednesday in UCI's baseball stadium. “It's been awhile, and, obviously, we know where training camp is going to be when the initial roster is announced, so when I heard it was at Irvine, definitely a smile came on my face. It's one you definitely hope you get called into. So very, very good to be back.”
Evans, who is from Phoenix, was a star a decade ago for the Anteaters, a perennial contender in the Big West Conference. He played with them from 2003 through 2006 and owned the program's goals record -- with 31, since surpassed -- when he left Orange County for MLS.
He's serving as de facto tour guide for his teammates, at least to the best of his ability.
“The guys ask me the nice restaurants to go to, but I was here 10 years ago, almost, and I was in college,” Evans said. “I wasn't going to nice restaurants. I know the cheap spots, but that's about it.”
There's an In-N-Out Burger -- Southern California's entry in the world's-best-burger sweepstakes -- across the street from one of the university's primary entrances, and he's regaled teammates with memories of Double-Doubles made “animal” style.
“I told the guys there's an In-N-Out within striking distance,” he said, “but if there's any cameras there and Jurgen [Klinsmann] sees us there, it's not a good thing.”
Evans has been proud to show off UCI, a highly regarded University of California satellite in a picturesque area right off Newport Beach's Back Bay.
“In all seriousness, everybody's very impressed with the campus,” he said. “More than once, guys went, 'You went to school here? Where did you live' -- we're so close to Newport [Beach]. A little diamond in the rough for these guys.
“A lot of guys being from the East Coast, they just have no idea [about UCI]. And a lot of guys, like [Matt] Besler, going to Notre Dame -- the school's 150 years old, and you come here and it's 1965-ish, so it's a little bit different. The culture's a little bit different. Not to say one's better than the other, but it's cool to have the guys recognize the stature of this school and the beauty, as well.”
Evans, who has 23 US caps, mostly as a defender, said camp has been “very good, competitive,” and that it's starting to get intense.
“Guys are coming in off different schedules. Some guys are coming in from Europe,” he said. “And guys are now on the same rhythm after a couple of days. Today will be a good double-session and get guys on the same page and see where guys are fitting in and who's ready for Saturday.”
Evans has gone up against Mexico once before, in the 2-0 win in San Antonio back in April, and he's played in two CONCACAF Gold Cups and a handful of World Cup qualifiers. But this one is something else.
“Massive, massive, massive,” he said. “This is obviously one that you mark on your calendar. It's a big one -- you can tell by the crowd, by the venue that they chose, the media surrounding it, just the whole buildup. ...
“Obviously, the venue was chosen for a reason: They knew it would sell out in a snap of the finger, and it sure did, 90,000-plus. It's an icon of a stadium and big games have been held at before, so I think of us it provides a challenge, but one these guys have [faced], playing at Azteca, and they've won there.”
The US have great respect for Mexico, but they've not yet addressed El Tri.
“Right now the focus remains on us, and inside this camp, it's been about us,” Evans said. “We'll have our time to study the opponent, to study tactics, what they've done in the past couple games and look at what we can do to break them down. But we've got to be focused on what we're doing right now, and if we do that, coupled with what they're doing tactically and what we need to do against them, we give ourselves a chance.”
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