The sports world operates in a constant state of flux. Just look at the Seattle Sounders. Mere weeks before the start of the 2016 MLS season, last year's leading goal scorer Obafemi Martins transferred to the Chinese Super League. While the move shocked his teammates and Sounders supporters, there's young blood primed to fill the void in the form of forward Jordan Morris. The 21-year-old Seattle native won last year's Hermann Trophy (NCAA player of the year) and has become a rising star on the U.S. Men's National Team. In order for the Sounders to have a chance at capturing their elusive first MLS Cup, the club needs Morris to be a stud in his rookie season.
One constant for the Sounders? Brad Evans. Since the Sounders selected Evans in the 2008 expansion draft, his stellar play has been a solidifying force for the club. The USMNT regular had a somewhat tumultuous 2015 campaign as roster moves necessitated a position change from go-anywhere midfielder to central defender. But like any great athlete, challenge only further fuels his competitive fire. Evans and company kick off the 2016 MLS season on Sunday (March 6) when two-time MLS Cup champs Sporting Kansas City travel to CenturyLink Field.
For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we chatted with Evans about expectations for the season, the arrival of Jordan Morris, and his lack of rapping skills.
Expectations are always high at the start of a season, but as you prep for the opener, is there anything that feels different about this squad?
Yeah. Being in this league a long time, you come to understand that every year has its own storyline. So this year the storyline in the preseason was are we gonna get Jordan Morris? Are we not gonna get Jordan Morris? I think that the club was really confident that they were gonna be able to sign Jordan, and that kind of led the way of not going after another striker.
Then, obviously, with three weeks left in preseason, we find out that Oba’s leaving for China. I don’t think any of us could have ever foreseen that, but like I said before, these little storylines kind of build themselves. These little wrenches are thrown into your plans. The way that our schedule works, our calendar is basically opposite of the rest of the world, so being able to find players and switch players is a little bit difficult for us. Soccer’s all about acting on your feet, not only on the field but off the field. Being able to deal with these certain situations that pop up. That’s why you’ve got plan A, B, C, D, and E lined up in case one of those things happens.
I think every year we come in with high expectations, no matter. Sometimes you lose players, sometimes you gain players, but you never really know what the season’s gonna bring until you get out there and test yourselves. That’s kind of what its been like since I’ve been here, since Day 1.
Speaking of Jordan, while the certain skills like his speed are obvious, as someone playing with him on a consistent basis, what makes him standout as a special player?
Jordan’s been in with our team since he was 17/18 years old. So I’ve seen a lot of Jordan in and out of our locker room. When he would come home for summer breaks, he’d train with us, and he’d pretty much train with the first team throughout even his academy career. I’ve also gotten to know him in the past year and a half since he’s gotten invited in and obviously excelled with the national team. I’ve been in most of the camps with him, so I’ve got to see both sides of it.
Its pretty much off the field where you get to know a guy. Going out to dinners, you start to build those relationships. We all know that his physical capabilities are there. His mental capabilities are there on the field: he knows what he’s doing tactically and he can play multiple positions on the front line. So in saying that, I think what makes him that good is he comes from a great family. He’s a very humble kid. His dad is our team orthopedic surgeon, so you know he’s got a good head on his shoulders, and that makes integrating with the team that much easier.
Was there anything you specifically focused on while training and preparing for the upcoming season?
Obviously, the transition for me to center back last year was eye-opening at times. Generally, it takes a physically powerful player to play that role and that position ‘cause you’re banging bodies and you’re winning headers and you’re going up against strong strikers. Whereas in the midfield, you like to be a little bit more light on your feet and a little bit more fluid. So in saying that, putting on a little bit more weight and building some strength was something I really focused on this offseason. I did everything possible to give myself the best advantage going into year two at that position. I think playing in midfield you generally have an idea of how the game should be played—passing ability, technical ability—but everything changes when you’re the last line of defense.
Are you ever able to get out and experience Seattle’s arts and cultural scene?
Yeah. In the offseason it's generally easier to go have a fun night out and have the time to recuperate the day after. During the season it’s a bit tough, especially as you get older, for your body to regenerate, and we expend a lot of energy on the field. So during the season, I think most us stay pretty quiet. My wife and I obviously enjoy the restaurants in Seattle. I’m a big foodie. We enjoy going to stand up comedy. We’ve gone to Broadway plays at the Paramount. Just experiencing different things.
What’s your standup comedy taste?
Very raunchy. I like dirty comedy, I guess. I really enjoyed seeing Dave Chappelle in Seattle. That was like a highlight of my life. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to do that again, see him again. I saw Tosh.0. We saw Chris D’Elia. That kinda comedy. It’s not very tasteful, but it makes us laugh.
Has Clint Dempsey ever asked you to lay down a guest verse on one of his rap tracks?
No. [Laughs] Never asked me to guest rap. No chance. I could maybe write some lyric, but my voice isn’t one for digital audio. No chance.
[Laughs] Well maybe you can just ghost write a verse.
Yeah… or you’re gonna have to synthesize my voice.
Auto-Tuned Brad Evans.
Yeah, Auto-Tune it.
I know lots of fans are critical of the Sounders lack of playoff success, and that will probably only intensify after hated Timbers won the MLS Cup last season. But the club won the Supporters’ Shield in 2014 for being the best regular season team and has captured multiple U.S. Open Cups. Is it ever frustrating that unlike everywhere else in the world, playoff success matters more in American sports than regular season excellence?
It’s not really frustration. We’ve had very lofty goals since year one. Obviously winning the Open Cup multiple times and winning the Supporters’ Shield was massive in our eyes. But that MLS Cup has obviously eluded us. That’s the coveted piece of hardware that we need to bring home.
So in saying that, does it give us extra motivation? Absolutely. And even more so after Portland won? 100 percent. You know, going into a penalty shootout against Dallas [last season] and knowing that you’re minutes away from making the next round, only to come up short? It’s a difficult pill to swallow, but it made guys hungry. And that’s all you can ask for. If you’re not gonna win the thing, you better come out and bust your ass the next year to do everything possible to get you to that next level.
Having those lofty goals is good, and we try to attain as many as possible every single year. We are very, very close, and it takes a little bit of luck, as we’ve seen. Kansas City hit two posts in the same kick to win the game [in the playoffs against Portland]. That would’ve advanced them to the next round, and Portland would’ve been out. It’s literally inches sometimes that separates you from making a good run in the playoffs.
Because really the Sounders/Timbers rivalry needed more fuel on the fire.
That’s just the gasoline. More and more gasoline. [Laughs]
MLS Opener: Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting Kansas City
Mar 6 at 4, CenturyLink Field, $30–$105 (Televised on Fox Sports 1)