Potters won't have it all their own way in U.S. warm-up, warns Evans
F ORMER Stoke City defender Ray Evans didn't expect football in the United States to be a doddle – but having to man-mark Pelé was what you call a tall order.
The 62-year-old has spent the last 30 years in the U.S. after leaving Stoke to sign for Seattle Sounders in 1982.
The right-back had already spent a couple of years across the Atlantic, during which time he even managed to keep the Brazilian legend quiet when St Louis took on New York Cosmos in 1977.
We assume Pelé won't dust off his boots when Stoke City embark on their three-game tour of America this summer, but Evans says there will still be plenty of interest in the Potters' games against Columbus Crew, Orlando and Sporting Kansas City.
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Evans, who played 105 games for Stoke from 1979 to 1982, now works as a coach with Three Rivers Youth Club in Washington State.
He says football fans across the pond will be well aware of the Potters.
He said: "The kids I coach all watch the 'EPL' on the Fox Soccer channel. There's a lot of interest in English football so people will absolutely know who Stoke City are.
"A lot of the youngsters I coach support Manchester United so we are trying to get them away from that mentality! But at least they know the English teams."
The American trip marks a change of approach for Stoke after 10 years in an Austrian training camp.
But Evans was a pioneer way back in 1977 when his Millwall manager, Gordon Jago, suggested he spent the summer playing in America for St Louis.
He said: "I had been on a tour of the East Coast with Tottenham in 1969 and thought it was humid there, but that was nothing compared to St Louis in the mid-west.
"I arrived there on a Tuesday and we played Luton on the Wednesday in an exhibition game.
"The temperature was 98 degrees and humidity must have been 99 per cent. I lost five or six pounds during the game and wondered what I had got myself into.
"But I threw myself into it and enjoyed it. There were a lot of British players there at the time. I think it was appealing to their clubs because it meant they could get them off their pay-roll for the summer."
The likes of Gordon Banks, Alan Hudson and Jimmy Greenhoff all tried their luck in North America and Canada in the late 1970s and early 1980s during that continent's soccer boom.
The biggest franchise was the New York Cosmos, featuring Pelé. He was 36 when New York played St Louis in 1977, but still a daunting prospect for Evans's team.
The defender said: "We used to play on the university field, but when we played the Cosmos they moved it to Busch Stadium which was the big baseball stadium in St Louis.
"We changed our tactics so, rather than playing full-back, I was sweeper and man-marked Pelé.
"He was right at the end of his career but was still very strong and still had all the skill so you could never over-commit against him.
"It's just he couldn't get away from defenders as quickly as he used to.
"We actually beat them 2-0 and to have done it with him in their team was the icing on the cake."
Londoner Evans did so well the following year that he was named in the North American Soccer League team of the season, a select side which also featured Carlos Alberto, Franz Beckenbauer, Rodney Marsh, Trevor Francis and Giorgio Chinaglia.
Although the American game still has its big names, not least David Beckham of course, Evans says the elite Major League Soccer is built on stronger foundations than 30 years ago when the then elite league NASL had relied heavily on imported talent.
Stoke will expect a hearty welcome on July 28 at their sister club Orlando City, who are managed by their former player Adrian Heath and owned by Potters director Phil Rawlins.
Orlando compete in the United Soccer Leagues Pro Division, which is the third tier of football in the country.
City are likely to face a tougher task against Columbus Crew (July 24) and Kansas (Aug 1) as both compete in the elite MLS.
Evans says Stoke can expect competitive opposition and enthusiastic crowds.
He said: "It is difficult to judge, but it is a pretty good standard
"I'm not sure if it is quite the same as Championship standard in England, but maybe only just below that.
"The fans are great, just as they were when I first went over. They were like sponges, just wanting to soak up all the information they could. They would ask a million questions after a game."
Evans's last English club was Stoke City. He was recruited by Alan Durban the summer after City were promoted in 1979 and helped the club establish itself back in the top flight.
He said: "Stoke had some good young players such as Adrian Heath, Paul Bracewell and Garth Crooks.
"I also loved the fact the Stoke fans were so passionate.
"Whether there were 12,000 fans or 25,000 at the Victoria Ground, they created a good atmosphere.
"I got some stick now and again, but that's what fans do.
"If you have a problem with that you are in trouble."
Evans enjoyed his time at Stoke more under Alan Durban than his replacement Richie Barker, who took charge in 1981 after Durban departed for Sunderland.
Evans added: "I don't think he was the best tactical guy around.
"We had some talented players in midfield but for some reason he didn't want to play through midfield.
"I think the fans got a little frustrated and then the team got a bit edgy and things turned sour.
"I made up my mind it was time to go."
He joined Seattle Sounders in 1982, gradually moved into coaching and he and wife Sandra made a new life in the U.S.
But he's been back in England for a two-week break and was delighted to meet up with old pals Terry Conroy, Denis Smith and Brendan O'Callaghan.
He said: "I love it in America, but if I were to come to England again I would settle in Stoke. It's a great area and the people are so warm and friendly."