Sunday’s 2-2 home draw with Seattle Sounders was the first time Brad Evans, an original MLS Sounder who played 221 matches for the Rave Green, faced his former side. For Evans, the match (which he labeled “a fair result”) and the post-game locker room visit was a happy reunion for Sporting KC’s offseason free-agent signing.
“It’s always good to see old faces,” said Evans. “I went into their locker room afterwards, and everything is good there from a personal standpoint for me, the way I left things, and vice-versa. Everybody just wanted to make sure that I was doing well. From that standpoint, I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
The 32-year-old defender/midfielder has yet to make an appearance for his new squad as he continues his rehabilitation from a back injury that limited him to 11 appearances and 480 minutes last season in the Pacific Northwest. But Evans, the two-time MLS Cup winner (Columbus 2008; Seattle 2016), has been a quick believer in the way things are run by Manager Peter Vermes and his staff.
“It’s an extremely organized team; that’s from top-to-bottom. It’s something that Seattle was probably lacking a bit because it’s a bit more lax over there. Over there, it’s kind of on the players to moderate things and handout fines, things like that,” Evans stated. “Then you come to this place where it’s run a bit more streamlined – I’m a typical American player – so that was easy for me to assimilate into a group like [Sporting KC].”
When Sporting Kansas City first signed Evans in February, Vermes highlighted the experience and leadership Evans brings to the team, in addition to his solid play. Evans elaborated on the culture and the resulting unity of Vermes’ squad.
“You are supposed to be here at this time, then you’re there. If not, the team hands out a fine. In Seattle, that’s not the way it was. It was just different,” said Evans. “In saying that, [Sporting Kansas City] is a very organized team. The culture is great. The players are great. There isn’t a guy who pulls away from the group. That was said on Day One of preseason from Peter: ‘If you don’t think you can be apart of this group or you are starting to pull away, then you are out of here.’”
Vermes has guided Sporting KC to three US Open Cup titles and an MLS Cup Championship in his years at the helm with four core values for his players – team first, intelligence, high work ethic, and pursuing excellence every day. For Evans, a winner of two Supporter’s Shields (Columbus 2008; Seattle 2014) and of four US Open Cups (all with Seattle) in addition to his MLS Cup titles, the buy-in message sent by Vermes endures.
“It’s a very good message to send from the beginning and that trickles down through games, through trainings, and if you are not training well, you go with Swope [Park Rangers, the second team]. If you tend to pick things up a little bit, then you can come back,” said Evans. “That’s just how it operates here, and I’m really impressed.”
For Evans and Sporting KC, the season has begun well despite an opening 2-0 loss to New York City FC, as the team sits atop MLS’s Western Conference.
“If you can go 4-1-2, if you can do that for every seven games, you are sitting really pretty,” Evans said. “But we can do better. The group realizes that. When we have meetings, it’s what we expect here. It’s been very good. I can’t say a negative thing.”
But when will Evans be ready to feature for his new club? Details on that below.
Vermes on Shelton
For Khiry Shelton, the other Sporting KC offseason pickup from within MLS, the season began with an injury that kept him out of the opener versus former employers NYCFC. But since then, Shelton has started every match despite having yet to score from his center striker position, even though the 24-year-old has provided strong link-up play and movement up-top. However, Shelton’s biggest chance to get on the board came Sunday in the 23rd minute when he was alone six yards from and to the left of Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei’s goal.
Despite Shelton’s lack of clinical finishing in front of goal, Sporting Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes remains patient, unlike a growing number of fans who are calling for Chilean Diego Rubio – in the 18 on Sunday but saw no time (63 minutes on the season) – to get an extended shot.
“It was the chance for him; it was a high-percentage chance that he’s got to stick away. But he has done so much for us – the games that he’s been in we’ve gotten results. And he’s a part of that,” said Vermes. “He just needs to crack the back of the net, then we will see where it goes from there.”
Evans added. “The biggest challenge for a manager is that the team is doing very well right now. You want to keep things rolling as smoothly as you can. Khiry has put in a lot of miles, a lot of work up top, but he has yet to find his first goal. You want him to find his scoring touch. You want him to get his first one, and you hope that they follow after that.”
Squad Rotation: Felipe, Russell, Gerso, and Evans
Sporting Kansas City is experiencing the first schedule congestion (albeit relatively minor) of the season with a Sunday – Friday match week, thankfully both at home. And it is of little concern to Vermes.
“I don’t foresee fatigue or close proximity of games being that big of a deal,” said Vermes. “There is more than enough time to recover, unless there is an [unknown] injury with somebody.”
The only known injury is engine-man Felipe Gutierrez’s lingering inflammation of his hip/groin area.
“Felipe has progressed a lot. He did a little training yesterday; he will probably do a little more today, and we will keep trying to build him up over the week,” Vermes revealed on Tuesday before training at Pinnacle.
Odds are Gutierrez will not see time on Friday as Vermes is typically inclined to avoid exacerbating an injury that may result in a long-term absence. Look for Gutierrez to look to add to his team-leading five goals April 28 at New England.
One who would love to get more time is last year’s leading goal-getter, Gerso Fernandes. Thus far, Gerso has one assist in seven appearances and 120 minutes of play. The Blue Testament asked the 2nd-year Sporting winger what the most difficult part of not getting as much time as last season was:
“It’s not difficult because I try to enjoy it when I’m playing 90 minutes [or] even when I’m playing five minutes or even when I’m not playing at all because this is my life,” said the veteran of six seasons in Portugal. “We have more than one player in my position, so whatever the coach decides is best for the team, I’m okay with it. You just keep going.”
The speedy and skilled Fernandes came in for Johnny Russell on the right wing in the 85th minute on Sunday.
“You can do something [in five minutes], but it’s hard because the game is so fast and you get tired so fast…,” Gerso said. “People think, ‘Well, you just got in the game [you should be fresh].’ But it’s hard to get into the rhythm of the game.”
Russell has had little trouble getting into the rhythm of Sporting KC’s mode of play since coming over from English First Division outfit Derby County, where he had just gotten back in favor, making 25 appearances in all competitions. Fatigue throughout the season is likely to be a concern for Russell, but not at this point according to Vermes:
“It would have been a lot bigger of a deal if we would have just came from Derby and then right away starting playing here. The fact that he had about two-and-a-half weeks off while he was getting his paperwork done, and then we were pretty smart with him in preseason, that has helped a lot.”
“It’s more in the summertime when we are going to have to be a little bit more intelligent with him because he hasn’t been use to playing through the summer; usually he’s off and vacationing somewhere. Where now he’s going to be in the heat of Kansas City (if we ever get any). He will start to feel that.”
And now back to Evans, who has not been feeling pain in his back. When might we see him on the pitch?
“I’ve been training full for the past four weeks. Every week seems to be more than what I’ve done the previous, so that’s promising. I look to continue building things, and then the potential to begin playing with Swope [Park Rangers] and getting some minutes here in the coming weeks is something that’s on the radar if everything goes according to plan,” Evans related. “[However,] rarely do things ever go according to plan. We are just hoping for the best. The treatment, the facility is amazing. Hopefully, in the next couple weeks [I’ll] be in the mix.”