Brad Evans spent only two seasons in Columbus at the very beginning of his career. The first was a forgettable, injury-marred four-appearance campaign. The second resulted in a Supporters’ Shield and an MLS Cup title. Then it was off to Seattle in the expansion draft, where over the course of nine season, he won another Supporters’ Shield, another MLS Cup, and four Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cups. All in all, that’s eight major trophies in 12 MLS seasons, plus 27 caps for the United States. That’s a pretty good haul for a career that ended in retirement after spending the 2018 season with Kansas City.
I caught up with Evans while he was in Palm Springs amidst some post-retirement travels. Our conversation took some unanticipated and illuminating twists and turns, so I will present it in Q&A format. (Once again proving that I am lucky that people give me answers that are far better than my questions warrant. #Blessed.)
I’ll pick it up where we get around to the topic at hand, then we’ll veer off on such tangents as Brad’s rookie struggles and his long professional relationship with the late Sigi Schmid.
People will always associate you with the Seattle Sounders, and rightfully so, but Columbus is where you started your career and you won a couple of trophies here. From afar, how hard was it for you to watch the 15-month relocation saga unfold?
It was the first place that gave me a chance. I think that first place you go is always going to be a special part of you.
Obviously, the first year in Columbus wasn’t great for me, being injured from the combine and then I got injured four or five games into the season and it kind of snowballed and I ended up missing the rest of the year. I was on a developmental contract, so the whole year was not ideal. I remember going into Sigi’s office that August and asking if I could just leave and go finish school and get that taken care of, but obviously I wasn’t able to do that. He wanted me to be around the team.
I thought about packing up my stuff and just being done with it. It wasn’t for me at the time. Being out of my comfort zone and coming to Middle America was different than being on the coast. It was a bit of a shellshock for me, but mostly because I wasn’t playing. Playing cures all. The next year, I was thrust into a role where I was playing every single game, which really changed my view on soccer and my happiness. What you want to do is play. That’s why we do it and chase our dream. Luckily, I won a championship and a Supporters’ Shield.
The biggest thing I remember from that time is the relationships that I built with the guys and even the front office. It was a close group at the time. The trainers and everyone. I think that always happens no matter what when you win a championship. It’s a bond and something to remember. It’s special. Whenever people ask you about good times or tough times, you reflect on championship years because there’s something special about those players and that time.
So when I first heard the news, angry and surprised were probably the first two emotions that I had. I also watched the Crew over the last few years, and whenever I would turn on a game, there was nobody in the stands. It was a really good team with a really good coach, so I’d ask myself what was going on and why was that happening? It’s a soccer city with a deep-rooted soccer culture and a historic soccer stadium, so there was no reason that it shouldn’t be sold out. I think a lot of that lied on the front office. That tends to bleed out into the fans. Like, “Why should I come to games if the team is going to be taken from me?” It was tough. It was tough.
We didn’t sell out in 2008, but we were packing the stadium and it was an environment unlike any other that I have played in. Seattle had the pure numbers, but Crew Stadium with 17,000-20,000 in it felt bigger because everyone was right on top of you. It was a crazy crowd with crazy fans. I remember being involved in the community and making relationships outside of the team that I fondly remember for sure.
Wait, I just want to circle back and clarify something you said. In 2007, when you said you were thinking about being done with it, did you mean you were just looking to leave the team to finish school and then come back in 2008? Or were you about to be done with soccer period?
I wanted to be done with soccer. I called my mom a couple times and said “I’m packing up my stuff and coming home.” I was so frustrated. I was mentally and physically broken down and just didn’t think it was right for me. I was making $12,000 a year, so $400 a paycheck after taxes. I had to pay $400 a month to live for rent, plus my car payment and car insurance. I had maybe a couple hundred bucks to live on for the month. It was like, “Why am I doing this? I could go get my degree and my earning potential would significantly increase.” It was a really tough time, but it’s one I look back on and am thankful for it. I really had to dig in my heels and listen to my family.
The same thing happened to me at Irvine. I wasn’t playing much, only a handful of games, and it was a culture shock, being in Southern California and that year it actually rained, so coming from Arizona I was like, “What am I doing here?” I was doing shitty in school. It wasn’t great. My parents said, “You’re going to stick this out. You always give everything a year and see how it goes.” From there, things just fell into place like they later did in Columbus. It was probably more me whining because things weren’t going the way I wanted them to go. I was lucky enough to have my parents behind me. Without them, we’re obviously not having this conversation right now.
It’s just crazy to think what an inflection point 2007 was in your life. All of the trophies, games with the U.S. National Team, your whole career almost didn’t happen. That one decision changed your whole life.
It was an extremely pivotal point for me. If it wasn’t for that team, if it wasn’t for that coach, if it wasn’t for an extremely crappy situation my first year there, what I have accomplished since isn’t there potentially.
Really, it was about the perseverance, and it kind of goes back to what we were talking about. Crew fans persevered in retaining their team, and the players have persevered, and the new ownership group has persevered. With the Crew being in limbo, it’s kind of the exact same story.
Now can you turn it into something even more massive than it was back then? I think you can. With the new ownership group, I feel like there is a new light with the club and I hope it continues. It can be really special. Guys love coming to Columbus to play, so now if you get a new stadium and a new training facility, you can draw even more talent and it’s only going to grow from there. You can see clubs that are being left behind now. There’s a new model and it’s important for the new ownership group to dig in their heels and make it something really special. And they will. They’re smart people. They’re touring other teams and other facilities to see what they’re doing right on the business side and on the player side. It’s a combo effort, but ultimately it’s the players. The owners have to spend the money. That’s the bottom line.
Have you seen the plans for the new stadium in the Arena District and the plans for the new training facility that will keep the existing stadium intact and preserve an American soccer landmark?
I saw the stadium but didn’t know about the training facility and the current stadium. It’s important to keep that fabric. What happened there was really special, so if you can keep it around, it will be a landmark like you said. You can still host games there. Just keeping that tradition alive is important.
Let’s fast forward to January and we get the news that the Crew are officially staying. What was your reaction then?
The whole time, I was paying attention and wanted the Crew to remain. I sent out that tweet about how can fans buy a sports team. I knew people would jump out of the woodwork and it would be amazing. But just hearing from players, even into the middle of last year or late last year, everyone was still really uncertain. Everyone was left in the dark. It was a really weird situation. Once I had gotten word that things were going to change a little bit and that there was this new ownership that was going to make a proposal to buy the team and retain the team in Columbus, and I knew who it was, I thought, “These are the guys you need behind it. These are the right people. You need deep pockets. They’ve had their hand in Columbus for decades.”
For me, I was excited. I was really excited. That’s something that needed to happen and I knew it was the right decision by MLS, finally. I knew it was a good decision and one that I was obviously ecstatic for.
Having this conversation with you now, I’d miss the team. MLS would be weird without the Crew. It would just be bizarre. It would be really bizarre. I know franchises move in other sports, but if it can be done right, the city should retain the team. If owners come in and do the right thing and have the right plan, the team should always stay there, so I’m excited and I’m really happy for the city and the fans and the guys and the new ownership group as well.
What do Crew fans need to know about Dr. Pete now that he’s part of the ownership group?
I think Dr. Pete is one of those guys who wants to know players’ opinions. We were in contact briefly when all of this was going down. I know he was in contact with (other players.) He wants players to be involved as best they can. He will go to players and say, “What should we do here? Or what shouldn’t we do here?” I think that’s important because the players want to feel special and if they know ownership cares about them, it takes things to a different level. It’s the opposite of when Precourt was there. He didn’t care what the players thought and he didn’t take a vested interest in the players’ well-being.
It was evident in Seattle and Kansas City, the other two teams I was at, that ownership actually cared about the players. You felt it. It was just a different vibe and it’s so important. Dr. Pete will bring that connection between players, fans, and ownership. I know that he will do things the right way. It’s just the type of guy he is.
I have had multiple injuries and this kind of goes outside of soccer, but he’s a guy that I trusted. I trusted his opinions. I only played in Columbus for two years, but every time I came back, he made sure to come out of his way to have a conversation. He cared about that relationship. It says a lot about the guy. He didn’t have to go out of his way to make sure that I was doing well. I wasn’t part of the team. I was just there for two years, but to this day, he would always make sure to say hello and to make sure that everything was going well with me. It’s just little things like that.
If fans are wondering if this is the right decision, it is.
What would you say to the fans of the #SaveTheCrew movement. This is pretty much unprecedented. Obviously you need people like the Haslam and Edwards families and you need the money, but the fans provided the fuel and the passion to make it possible to actually save their team.
Like you said, it’s unprecedented. I wish there was a documentary crew that was following this from the beginning because I think it would be an amazing documentary for Netflix or Hulu.
Actually, there’s a guy named Sean Kelly who has been doing just that. I think he’s going to finish on the home opener this year, but he has been filming the whole way through this saga.
I didn’t know that. That’s exciting.
The whole process of it, how it started, how the fans got behind it, how other teams got behind it, it should have gotten more media coverage than it did, like on ESPN or something. Like you said, it’s unprecedented. It’s never happened in American sports, that’s for sure. This was just different. It just shows you how much the city and the fans cared. Now the product will continue to grow and there will be a new stadium and the fans will continue to be there and it’s something for the fans to rally around and connect around. It will be there forever and nothing can ever take that away. That’s extremely important.
Before I let you go, let’s switch gears and talk about Sigi. Obviously, we lost him recently. You were with him for a long time in both Columbus in Seattle. Any thoughts about him or how he may have impacted your life? Or a good Sigi story or two?
Obviously, it was a difficult one to even think about. When you think about people that are influential on your life and your career, obviously he’s up there with my family. That’s a really tough one. His (memorial) service the other day was amazing. The circumstances were really difficult, but of the thousand-plus people that showed up in that room, the degree of separation was at most two. It shows you how much of an impact he had on others. Hearing their stories, plus my own inner thoughts about where I started and where he grabbed me from and how that came about, it was full circle.
I remember my relationship with Sigi being up and down, to be honest. It was never rosy. It was never perfect. We lost games where we probably blamed each other at certain points. Well, I know we blamed each other, but we always found a way to meet up at Starbucks and figure out what we needed to do together to make the team successful. He never took accolades for anything. He always passed them on to me.
As for stories, I don’t really have any. He was the storyteller, not me. You know that. He had a story for everything. If I brought up the color red, he could somehow relate that to some in-depth soccer conversation about seeing a flag at some Bundesliga game or something like that. It was his special way of being such a soccer rat.
I remember a fiery coach when I started in Columbus, a coach that didn’t take shit from anybody. He got calmer as the years went on and I think that was necessary to manage his stress levels if he wanted to continue coaching. He needed to be calmer, so by the end, he was a bit more passive. I know he regretted that, but it was a necessity at the time in order to continue doing what he loved doing.
And I remember big hugs after every win, especially after championships.
A MASSIVE SEASON is now available as an ebook.