Commentary

Brad Evans on his goal and glory in Jamaica, and coaches Bradley, Schmid, Klinsmann and Arena

Brad Evans is cheerful and earnest as he reflects on a successful college, club and national team career. "I'm running around with my head cut off," he says — coaching a girls high school team, working full-time as a brand ambassador for the Seattle Sounders -- his team in 2009-2017 -- and launching a direct athlete-to-donor fundraising initiative, Contrib, takes up a lot of his day. He made time to chat about his U.S. national team experience at an apropos time:

The USA heads into a crucial Octagonal game at Jamaica, where its only win in final round World Cup qualifying play -- along with two ties -- came thanks to Evans' stoppage-time goal. The victory profoundly improved the ultimately successful passage to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Evans also played against Jamaica in the USA's 2-0 win at home in that qualifying quest. His other two games against Jamaica were in a 2-1 Gold Cup semifinal loss in 2015 and in a 1-0 friendly win under Bruce Arena in 2017, his final U.S. appearance.

Born in 1985, Evans comes from a generation of national team players who may not have been dreaming of it their whole lives: "I had posters of skaters up in my room, not soccer players." Before playing with the U.S. U-20s under Sigi Schmid, Evans saw soccer as a way to go to college more affordably.

But he excelled at UC Irvine, made it to MLS, and debuted for the USA in 2009 under Coach Bob Bradley. He returned to the national team in 2012 when called by Jurgen Klinsmann (whom he played against and whose skills dazzled him — but that story comes later).

Evans won MLS Cups with the Columbus Crew (2008) and Seattle Sounders (2016). He earned 27 U.S. caps and played in five 2014 World Cup qualifiers -- each a victory -- but wasn't picked for the World Cup squad by Klinsmann. 

SOCCER AMERICA: In the final round of 2014 World Cup qualifying at Jamaica, you started and scored in the 93rd minute for the win. Could you set the scene for me?

BRAD EVANS: We had a great hotel. I remember a really good meal beforehand — it was some chicken with some super spicy sauce. And I'm big on spice, coming from Arizona.

When you're with the national team, everything is just so heightened. Everything you do. When you're with your club team, you can kind of joke around. The day before a game, you go through the motions. With the national team, before the game, it feels like do or die.

It wasn't the best training session — the field is garbage, it's hot and humid.

Gameday

Then you step into the game. The 5 v 5+2 was just pinging that day. The neutral was Sacha Klestjan, and I remember because I had made a couple good passes and Sacha had commented on it. I was like, ‘OK, I'm feeling confident going into the game.’

The thing about that stadium is that there is no clock, so no one has any idea how much time is left. You ask the ref and he doesn't even respond. The smell of marijuana is in the air. You're just caught in this twilight zone of, ‘What are we doing? What time is it?’

Halftime, 1-0 USA

We were up at halftime and we were like, OK, we can get out of here with a result. But we were putting out fires in the second half.  Jamaica equalizes in the 89th minute.

I had no idea how much time was left although I felt exhausted. I don't know how, but I found myself at the near post on a short corner.

That little swivel from Michael [Bradley]— I love a near post run so I'm always finding myself in those spots. Michael's head comes up, and instead of just smashing it across, he's always trying to play the right ball. Back to my No. 9 days, I had a little swivel turn and thought I had to go far post.

The ball goes in

The ball goes into the back of the net and I went, 'Holy shit, I just scored for the national team.'

What do you do? For me, it's always throwing the shirt atop of the head. I'll always remember Sacha running from the bench and jumping up like a Mario brother.

The guys are just going nuts. To have that feeling of accomplishment and your whole team is proud of that and happy, that is a better feeling than scoring the actual goal. 

At the beginning of the game, the captains exchange pennants and oftentimes the captains will keep them. But Clint [Dempsey] gave me the pennant from that day, and I still have that, which is really cool.

At the time I didn't know how big of a goal that was. [Editor's note: The USA had only four points from its first three Hexagonal games and went on to sweep the three games in June -- its first and only nine-point window -- to open up a seven-point qualification cushion after only six games in the Hexagonal with 13 points.]


SA: Where will you be watching the game on Tuesday? Did you still follow the USA closely?

BRAD EVANS: Oh yeah, I follow super closely. I like to just watch games from home. If I go somewhere and I'm with other people, I get too distracted and I end up drinking beer and not focusing on what they're doing on TV. I want to critique and analyze a little bit. 

This cycle is different from my experience. When I was playing, it was a bunch of 28- to 32-year-old men who had done the business before, week in week out for years and years.

I look at the team now and it's a bunch of insanely talented players that haven't been tested yet as a group in a World Cup qualifying cycle. Even for that high quality player, playing against subpar teams in Concacaf — who I don't think are nearly as good as they were six or eight years ago — it's still tough for them to get results. 

There's no reason guys from Chelsea or PSG shouldn't be winning these games handedly in qualifying, so I think there are still a lot of question marks when I watch this team.

SA: Tell us more about how you see Concacaf teams being worse off now than they were during your playing days.

BRAD EVANS: When I look back, I look at players like Carlo Costly [32 goals in 78 appearances for Honduras] that were playing at decent-sized teams overseas. 

I look at a lot of these Concacaf teams now and I don't know how to explain it. I just don't think the quality of player is there that was there a couple cycles ago. Maybe that's due to the age and that [the USA] are young.

I look at Jamaica and the majority were playing in the Championship [in my day] — some were in the Premier League. Now I look, and yeah, a handful of them are, but the majority are not. 

Craig Tomlinson [a Jamaican who starred for the Sounders in their USL days], who’s the head coach of the high school I coach at, says the same thing: we are not what we once were 10, 12 or 14 years ago. I don't know why, but none of these teams seem threatening to me anymore.

SA: Let’s go back to your playing days for Orange County Blue Star in the PDL during your college summers. You, Kei Kamara, Sacha Klestjan ... what was that like? Did you bump into Jurgen Klinsmann ever?

BRAD EVANS: That was insane. I got called in with Blue Star after a spring season and they were like, ‘Hey, you're going to play summer league soccer.’ 

And I was like, no I'm not, ‘I'm going back to hang out with my friends in Arizona.’ 

And they were like, ‘No, you're going to be here. Just come out to this training session.’ 

At Irvine, we won maybe five or six games my freshman year. That summer I was like, ‘I don't care about soccer, dude. It doesn't affect me.’

So, we get out there and we're playing a small-sided game, two small goals, and it's basically a man-marking drill. There's this tall lanky dude just volleying left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot and just, so fit. I came to find out afterward it's Jurgen Klinsmann playing for the team. Prior, he had his alias and was playing PDL soccer.

[Editor's note: Jurgen Klinsmann went by 'Jay Goppingen' when he revived his playing career in early 2000s — "Jay" taken from the first letter of his first name and "Goppingen" was his hometown in Germany.]

That was my first introduction to [Jurgen] and we reminisced about that years later. I kind of walked off that field with my brain spinning, thinking, 'Oh wow. That's what soccer can be.'

That gave me the first taste of what that level was like.

That [Blue County] team was insane — Calen Carr, Kei Kamara, Sacha Klestjan, Jordan Harvey, Tyson Wall, Robbie Rogers, Benny Feilhaber

SA: What did soccer mean to you when you were thinking of where to take your game? Did you have a desire to go to Europe?

BRAD EVANS: I mean, my thoughts around soccer were just, ‘You're gonna go to school, get an education, and play soccer.' 

Unless you were mildly wealthy and your parents could afford a good education, you were stuck, right? And the writing is on the wall from when you were 14 years old: 'OK, I'm going to play club soccer, dedicate all this time for no reward to get a scholarship.' 

I think there were some great players to come out of [Phoenix] — Alan Gordon, Robbie Findley — you get the offshoot every once in a while, but in a city of 5 million? It should be way more.

I never had the thought to go overseas — especially growing up in Arizona. We didn't have professional soccer, we didn't have soccer on TV. 

I didn't care about soccer and I didn't know what professional soccer was. Playing with the U-20s, I got some small interest from Sunderland and Southampton, but again, they asked if I had any connections for a European passport and when I said no I don't think they ever talked to my people again.

SA: What was your relationship with Jurgen Klinsmann like?

BRAD EVANS: Jurgen was amazing for me. He gave me a ton of caps and games; he trusted me at a time where I was just fighting to be a part of that team. 

I wasn't in any place to be like, ‘Oh no, he's not giving me the right tactics to succeed or for this team to go to a World Cup and compete.’ That was more on the shoulders of the consistent starters of the program for a long time — Michael [Bradley], Jozy [Altidore], Tim [Howard]. I was on the periphery and if this guy is going to give me a chance, then why wouldn't I like him?

A lot of guys talk about the times he was having taekwondo classes and stuff. I wasn't ever there for those things. Maybe that's why I don't have that taste in my mouth. He always told me, 'You can do it at this level, you can do it.'

SA: You have the unique experience of having played under Klinsmann, Sigi (with the U-20s, Crew and Sounders), Bob Bradley and Bruce Arena. Could you spend a bit of time comparing and contrasting each of them?

BRAD EVANS: Bob gave me his first cap so I'm forever grateful for his trust in me at the time. Sigi, Bob, Bruce, Jurgen are all interconnected from years and years prior. There’s a socal connection, competitive connection, but also trusting each other, when Sigi would say to Bob, ‘Hey, look at Brad for the national team.’

As much as we like to build [national team call-ups] up in the press, like, 'Oh, we don't know what the coach is talking about,’ at the end of the day, it goes back to connections and recommendations from your club coach. Bob trusts Sigi and Sigi trusts Bob's opinion because they're all very successful. 

SA: What was your experience with Bob like?

BRAD EVANS: My experience with Bob was that he was one of the most intense human beings I've ever been around. I just remember from day one, no laughing. 

He was like, 'We're not here to joke around and ease into this January camp, if you want to prove that you can go to a World Cup or compete at a Gold Cup, then the work starts at day one. And you're going to show us how fit you are.' 

And they were over your shoulder every training session. 'Faster! Faster! Get it. Give It!' Constantly in your ear.'

Sigi wasn't like that. Sigi was different — he would say, ‘It's gotta be better, and he'd yell at you, but he wasn't ever over your shoulder, like, ‘Hey! Faster! Faster!’ But Bob was literally in your right ear as you're trying to do a passing drill, clapping and in his crouched stance  — just the most intense dude. Whistle in his mouth, just ready to blow it at any mistake. 


Sigi Schmid, who coached Brad Evans at the 2005 U-20 World Cup, drafted Evans for the Columbus Crew in 2007 and Evans started in the Crew's 2008 MLS Cup win. Evans also joined Schmid on the move to Seattle in 2009. From Brad Evans' Instagram account upon Sigi Schmid's death in December, 2018: "The only person outside of my wife and immediate family to believe in me no matter what. A massive loss and one that really hurts. Thank you and I’ll miss Starbucks talks about the team, disagreements, championships, your walk out tune before games, and learning how to be a leader."

SA: What was it like playing under Bruce Arena?

BRAD EVANS: I always loved Bruce because he said what he felt and he had really successful teams. For me, why would I want to go anywhere else when this guy is the most successful and in my backyard?

My time with Bruce on the national team was brief — it was one camp, maybe a little after that. It was just so cool because I was at the tailend of my career and he was like, 'yeah, come in, you've got an injury, but I don't care, take your time getting healthy. We want you here because you've done this a million times and it'd be good for the group. If you get a chance to play, then that'll be great too.’

From day one, Bruce treats you like a normal human in the respect that you get meals on your own, you can wear whatever clothes you want — as long you get the work done on the field and you're successful, he gives you the keys to the car to drive it however the team wants to do it. We had one meal together and that was breakfast, I think. 

Other coaches are like, morning run, then breakfast, then another meeting, then lunch, then another meeting, then we have dinner together, and you're like, this is insane. Going in with Bruce was a breath of fresh air. 

SA: He relaxes his players more than most?

BRAD EVANS: Dude it's insane. He's like, ‘We have a good team. Let's just get back to basics, try a few things, and let's see if it can work.’ It’s unfortunate, for that World Cup cycle.

SA: What did you think of Klinsmann snubbing Donovan in the 2014 World Cup?

BRAD EVANS: Super surprising to me. I don't know if it was a clash of egos, and maybe Jurgen felt, I don't know what, or why. 

Landon was playing well in camp and he was the guy who at any moment can provide that special moment. There are maybe one or two other guys on that roster who can do that on a consistent basis. Landon is one of those guys.

I was already on a flight and I didn't hear about it until the boys started rumbling about it and Landon was already gone. It was just bizarre, and whenever you look around a locker room and you're like, 'Wait. Landon's gone?' I don't know. It's just very bizarre.

Not the right move in my mind. Julian Green is a great talent, but in terms of a guy who performed in World Cups, knows all the ins and outs and can — no one's scared of Julian Green, you know? They're scared of Landon, whether he's an 18-year-old or a 33-year-old Landon.

SA: He was a leader for the team.

BRAD EVANS: Oh for sure, no doubt. He's a natural leader. Even if I stepped into the Sounders locker room right now, I'd be a leader — because you've been through it before so many times. That experience is invaluable and is a confidence booster. 

It was a shocking decision and maybe was a more personal decision than we know.

SA: How about what you’re up to these days? Tell us more about the fundraising project you’re doing. 

BRAD EVANS: Contrib is a digital fundraising platform and the original thought was direct athlete to fan charity options. I had this huge box of stuff right before Covid hit, and I wanted a way to auction off this memorabilia while choosing a non-profit of my choice where I wanted my money to go to. I scoured the internet and there was nothing out there like it.

I wanted it to be driven by the athlete or the influencer and not just a charity that posts up an auction. Contrib can allow those athletes to do it, and we've done about 35 auctions so far. We just hit the $30,000 raised mark a couple days ago. We keep on growing and we're adding more non-profits so I wouldn't be surprised to see more players throughout MLS doing it. 85% of the profits go to the non-profit of the athlete's choice. 12% comes back to us to handle our day-to-day logistics — no salary or anything, just trying to keep this thing going for as long as possible to make an impact. 

We've only been up and running for about three and a half months now and we're in our infancy stage but we're getting a lot of interest and the non-profits love it, the influencers love it, the fans love it — especially because it's coming directly from the athlete. 

Some cool moments have come out of it: Kelyn Rowe scored his first Sounders goal and is taking a video of that jersey and that moment and it goes for $1,500 — awesome.

Jordan Morris' first game back this year, benefitting a specific fund for juvenile diabetes and their families and his jersey goes for $3,000. So, we're really making an impact, I think. And it's because we're empowering the athletes to handle this. 

Whatever we thought before about fundraising efforts, we're just adding another fold to it which hasn't really been seen before.

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