The New University spoke with former Anteater Brad Evans, who now starts for the Columbus Crew in Major League Soccer, before he played in the MLS Cup last Sunday. The Crew defeated the New York Red Bulls 3-1 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. Here is what he had to say.
New University: Talk about your years at UC Irvine.
Brad Evans: I’ve been pretty fortunate to have the success I had at UCI. I scored some goals; I think Matt Murphy broke the goal count. So hats off to him, but while I was there we had a good group of guys, and we were all working for one goal. Unfortunately it didn’t work. But sitting here knowing that we are in now is a great feeling.
New U: What about your success at the professional level?
Evans: I didn’t think it would escalate this fast, especially after being injured last year. I’ve been real fortunate. I did my rehab the whole year, and took advantage of the opportunities and kept my head in the right place. I am excited to be at this stage.
New U: You were injured your rookie year. How tough was that, and what did you do to get back?
Evans: It was a comedy of injuries. I pulled my hamstring in the very first game of the combine, and that’s where all the MLS coaches see you before the draft. And I was like “Oh, crap. This is gonna suck.” I did some rehab and spoke with Coach Sigi Schmid and his trainer, and they drafted me. Some people were looking at it as ‘Why did we draft this guy if he was going to be injured? We don’t even know if he’s gonna play.’ Luckily, everything took flight after rehabbing last year.
New U: Describe the difference in play from the Big West to the MLS.
Evans: It’s a step above for sure. Some people look at MLS and think they can play here easy. Then they train with us and realize it really is a cut above. I have got great guys around me and great coaches, and they brought my confidence level up, which I think is most important. Everything is so much faster, from the thinking to the touches people take with the ball.
New U: What was your welcome to the MLS moment?
Evans: My first practice where I was healthy, I took too many touches on the ball and a few of the guys were screaming at me, using choice words, to move the ball faster [or to] pass it harder. That was a wake-up call. I didn’t have any NBA-like moment where I got dunked on and posterized though.
New U: What kind of role do you play on the Crew?
Evans: It was unlucky that the guy in my position got injured, and I had to step in four to five games into the season. I came in, kept my head down and did the dirty work. My role is to get the ball and find Guillermo [Barros] because obviously he is league MVP, and if you are going to give anybody the ball it is him. My role is to be a hard worker and to win balls.
New U: So Spencer Thompson broke all of your Arizona high school records. What do you have to say about that?
Evans: I’ve known Spencer forever. He played at the same club I played [at while] growing up. It’s awesome for him, and it is awesome for players coming out of Arizona. Even though there isn’t any Division 1 soccer in Arizona, these guys are good and they have shown that they should be given a chance to play. He is going to do great things at Irvine. He even has a chance to come out of school early; he’s that good.
New U: Speaking of records, Matt Murphy has broken your UCI records. What do you have to say about that?
Evans: Murphy is the man. The dude can crush a ball. He came out and trained with us, and just by taking free kicks [my teammates] were like “Dang, this kid could smack a ball.” A left foot is hard to come by, and that is something he has something going for him for sure. On top of that he is a battler. It’s a testament to his hard work; not many guys can score that much while they’re a marked man. And he’s doing it from left wing, not as a forward.
New U: Do you think you are going to see him in the MLS?
Evans: Yeah, for sure. There are a number of guys from that team that I can see here. David Sias the Big West Defensive Player of the Year, Matt, and a few other guys. Looking at [The Crew], we got guys at Irvine who are the same quality, if not better.
New U: The UCI men’s soccer program has been on the rise. What are we doing right?
Evans: Most importantly, it is their hunger to win. When I was there my freshman year, we weren’t the greatest team, but we battled and won some important games. My sophomore year we didn’t have the best record, but we had a great strength of schedule. And if you look at the guys they have brought in, they may not be the guys at UCLA, but they want to win. And now look, you’ve made the tournament and you’ve won Big West. Hats off to the alumni and the guys that are there this year. That’s putting in the work — period.
New U: You faced David Beckham this year, what was that like?
Evan: Great player obviously. On the field he puts the ball where he wants to; put a tree on the field and ask him to hit it from 40 yards away and he will do it nine out of 10 times. Luckily, we tied and beat [the Galaxy] this year. Luckily, We got the better of [Beckham].
New U: What was it like seeing him for the first time on the same pitch?
Evans: Before the game you try not to psyche yourself out, but as it is with any icon, you can’t help it. He has done great things for the game. It’s just like playing golf with Tiger Woods one-on-one. I marked him, and it was pretty cool.
New U: What was your favorite UCI soccer memory?
Evans: Sophomore year we beat Santa Barbara at their place 1-0. I only played 15 minutes because I had the stomach flu. I had to ride on the bus with it and everything. That was one of the biggest wins that year; it was just a great memory of going there and winning.
For some reason, it sticks out to me big-time.