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– Seeking Justice for the Seriously Injured –
Matt Pentz is an award-winning sports reporter who writes weekly columns on Sounders FC for Prost Amerika. Matt’s work also appears on the Guardian, ESPNFC, FourFourTwo and Yahoo
Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer crept up behind Brad Evans, waiting for a break in conversation to offer a few words of encouragement.
“You’ll be ready for the first day (of camp),” Hanauer told Evans patting him on the shoulder.
Evans undoubtedly appreciated the sentiment, but at the moment, he’s not entirely sure about that. Though the club is still officially leaving the door cracked, the longtime captain says that he has been ruled out for the rest of 2017 after being diagnosed with a herniated disk in his back. It’s the same injury, Evans also confirmed, that he has carried for more than a year and that had previously been diagnosed as a calf issue.
The hope now is that a few months of solid rest will solve the problem for good. If it doesn’t, well… Evans isn’t quite ready to go there.
If this really is the end of the road for Evans, either just in Seattle or altogether, he will be missed.
Evans has always possessed the type of game that was easy to overlook or take for granted. A versatile try-hard who could fill in almost anywhere on the field, he floated from position to position. His strong voice filled an important role behind closed locker room doors, but that kind of influence isn’t readily obvious to those peering in from the outside.
Despite being a Sounders original who was first acquired via the MLS expansion draft, at least in the last few years Evans’ status has felt constantly in flux. He thought he was on his way out after last season, only finding out that the club was picking up his contract option on the flight home from MLS Cup.
That Evans was able to come off the bench for the final 12 minutes of that league championship game in Toronto, crucially burying Seattle’s first spot kick, is remarkable in retrospect, given all of his health issues. He first noticed pain in his calf in the aftermath of Seattle’s 4-2 loss in Portland late last August. Having lined up as a central defender all year with Roman Torres rehabbing from a knee injury, that was the first game that Evans shifted out to right back.
“That’s initially when I felt that dull, achy pain in my calf,” Evans said. “It had been a year-and-a-half since I had done any hard running.”
The next week, while getting out of his car, “my back went out,” Evans said.
He was initially diagnosed with a bulging – not a herniated – disk, and treated with anti-inflammatories to bring down the swelling. He “recovered” from the back injury, but his calf kept bothering him.
“When it came to sprinting, I kept telling them, ‘My brain won’t let me do it,’” Evans said. “They kept telling me that I had to get over the hump, that I need to tell my body that it was OK to do that.”
His back went out again after the flight to Dallas for the second leg of the Western Conference semifinals, another unwelcome setback.
“Right when we got off the plane, I thought, ‘Holy s—, I can’t move,’” Evans said. “Pills, pills, pills, and then another steroid pack, which calmed that down.”
His body likely overcompensating for all of these various ailments, Evans hurt his ankle a week-and-a-half before MLS Cup, not even going through full training the day before the title game.
The month off after that match helped. In January camp with the U.S. men’s national team, he says he felt healthier than ever. Then, on the first day of Seattle’s preseason camp in Charleston, S.C., he felt another pop in his calf.
The team shut him down for eight weeks in an effort to solve the nagging calf issue once and for all, but it was strange: The ailment didn’t show up on an MRI. Evans saw a posture specialist, thinking that might be the problem. Another specialist though he might have a blood test, leading to a series of stress tests.
It wasn’t until after his hamstring and glute along with his calf seized up in the aftermath of the Minnesota game in August that they finally started to connect the dots.
“All this time, we thought it was a muscular problem,” Evans said. “So I was like, ‘What the f— is going on?’ I don’t understand what’s happening. My blood is clean. I eat good. I sleep decent. I don’t go out and drink that much alcohol. I take care of my body. Why is going haywire?
“(The diagnosis) was freeing for me, but I also want to play.”
That day won’t come until 2018, at the very earliest. If this is the end of the road, even if just in Seattle, the last image of Evans in a playoff game would be an appropriate one.
Even hobbled in one leg, limited by an injury far more serious than he let on or even knew at the time, Evans was still the one that shouldered the responsibility of taking Seattle’s first penalty kick. As Jozy Altidore had already converted for Toronto FC, a miss from Evans could have drastically altered the way the shootout ultimately unfolded.
Evans’ spot kick wasn’t flashy – TFC’s Clint Irwin guessed the wrong way, and Evans rolled a slow shot inside the other post – but it got the job done, the longtime captain leading from the front just as he always has. A few rounds later, Seattle was a league champion at last.