When the United States first released its roster for a stretch of three World Cup qualifying matches in less than two weeks, Brad Evans' name was absent.
Five days passed before U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann decided to add Evans for additional depth along the defensive backline, a move that now looks like a stroke of genius.
Evans went from being left out to being the reason the U.S. got out of Jamaica last Friday night with three critical points after he scored the game-winning goal in stoppage time of a 2-1 victory.
"It's an opportunity. I think I've been telling myself that each game brings a new opportunity and it's up to me to stake my claim," Evans said. "I've done a decent job the last two games and obviously I can do better."
Starting a stretch of three qualifiers in 12 days, the U.S. (2-1-1) improved to seven points in the 10-game final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region, trailing Costa Rica (2-1-1) on goal difference and ahead of Mexico (1-0-4) on goals scored.
The U.S. gets its chance to take hold of the qualifying group with two straight home matches beginning Tuesday night in Seattle against Panama on Evans' home field in Major League Soccer. The Americans then face Honduras in Sandy, Utah, on June 18.
Before he scored the winner, Evans was having another solid performance starting at right back, following up on a strong showing in a friendly against Germany just a few days earlier. But the goal is what everyone will remember from that night in Kingston.
Evans had his back to the goal with Jermaine Beckford, O'Brian Woodbine and Daniel Gordon about 5 yards from him when he stopped a pass from Michael Bradley with his left foot. He then turned and kicked the ball with his right foot over goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts from about 8 yards, a shot that may have taken a slight deflection off the sliding Woodbine.
"I'm really happy to see a fellow teammate out there reaping the benefits of all his hard work that he's put in," U.S. forward and Seattle Sounders teammate Eddie Johnson said.
Evans' opportunity came because of injuries to Timmy Chandler and Steve Cherundolo, who were both bypassed for the qualifiers. Geoff Cameron got the start against Belgium in late May, but Evans started a few days later against Germany. His performance against the Germans impressed Klinsmann enough to give Evans the start against Jamaica, his first start in a World Cup qualifier.
"Every player gets an opportunity. For whatever circumstances, some players injured, some missing, whatever it is, this is their opportunity they get. You always break into a team by the fact that something happened. You convince the coach you're good," Klinsmann said. "He took that opportunity. We spoke before camp about it. I spoke a couple times at length with (Seattle coach) Sigi (Schmid) here. We felt it was the right moment for him to get that opportunity, and he took it."
Perhaps equally important to impressing Klinsmann is keeping U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard happy in the back.
"For me one of the important things for a defender is how he retains information and applies it and he's been great," Howard said. "He's listened. If something hasn't been perfect or spot on we've talked to him. He's accepted the information and he's used it. He's been really, really good there and it's exciting to see his progression."
When Evans got to Seattle in 2009, he was a midfielder. Period. In his mind, any future with the national team would be by controlling the center of the yard. But ultimately his versatility became a trait Schmid came to rely on. Need a right back, a fill-in striker, even a central defender? Evans could do it. When he slid to fill in at left back on defense in a game last month against FC Dallas for a few minutes while a teammate was injured, Evans fulfilled having played at every position for the Sounders with the exception of goalkeeper.
"Like I said it's an opportunity, but I've been thrust into different positions in a snap of a finger — the day of the game, changing positions, within a game playing center back for 45 minutes or whatever it is — it's just having a positive attitude and being a student of the game and recognized that's my role and embracing it," Evans said. "In years past I thought I wanted to be a central midfielder and thinking that was where I was going to be in this league, but things change and lineups change and coaches change.
"Being ready for the inevitable and the little switches that might happen . has always been on the back of my mind."
NOTES: U.S. midfielder Jermaine Jones (concussion) tweeted that he will be out for Tuesday's game against Panama. Jones had to leave Friday's match in Jamaica after getting elbowed in the head. ... The U.S. practiced Sunday on the temporary grass field that was installed at CenturyLink Field. They will also practice on Monday at the stadium. ... Officials say 35,000 tickets have been sold for Tuesday's qualifier.