Seattle Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid calls Brad Evans the "Knockout Man."
That's the name Schmid gave his second-year midfielder in recognition of his penchant for knocking opposing teams out of contention with timely goals.
"Last year he scored a goal against D.C. [United] to knock them out of the playoffs and he scored the goal this year to knock FC Dallas out," Schmid said of Evans.
Evans might not score a lot of goals -- just three on the season -- but makes them count when he does. With goals at a premium in the home-and-away playoff format, Evans could mean the difference between Sounders FC advancing past the Houston Dynamo or cleaning out their lockers.
While his teammate in central midfield Osvaldo Alonso has deftly distributed balls across the formation from his deeper-lying position, the Cuban's first responsibilities are in defense. That leaves Evans as the player who will complement Fredy Montero and Freddie Ljungberg by giving Seattle an attacking punch through the middle of the park.
Seattle's playoff destiny might rest on the "Knockout Man" finding the right combination with those two, especially when Ljungberg goes out wide and Seattle needs another target in the box. Last season, Evans started all four playoff matches for the eventual MLS champion Columbus Crew.
For Schmid, the importance of getting Evans back on track in time for the playoffs was clear.
"He's that midfielder who finds a way to get forward," Schmid said. "That's what he did for us at the beginning of the season."
After a rough middle of the season, which saw him dropped from the starting lineup, the second-year midfielder has looked dangerous again. Playing alongside Alonso in a dual holding midfield role, Evans' success played a large part in Seattle's strong start. In the team's first match against New York, Evans was a key figure going forward, scoring the team's second goal on a run into New York's penalty area.
Evans started the first 15 league games for Sounders FC and the midfielder's strong early-season form was rewarded with a spot on the U.S. national team for the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
However, Evans did not start regularly for the Stars and Stripes and possibly, by spending nearly a month away from the Sounders, lost some match sharpness. His first two matches back in a Seattle uniform were both losses, a 4-0 drubbing by San Jose and another 1-0 loss at the hands of Real Salt Lake.
Evans' slippage coincided with the return from injury of veteran center midfielder Pete Vagenas, whose role began to expand. Eventually, Vagenas started alongside Alonso for two consecutive matches in September, with Evans coming relegated to the bench in each match. Vagenas also started the team's most important match to date, the U.S. Open Cup final against D.C. United.
To his credit, Evans continued to battle and looks as though he has rediscovered his groove just in time for the postseason. After filling in at right back for the injured James Riley against Kansas City, Evans returned to his preferred role and picked up the winner in Seattle's 2-1 victory against FCD.
"I think he's found his form again and he's an important offensive cog for us. When we get goals from different places, like we have been getting over the last couple weeks, it makes our team better."
Evans has found success picking and choosing the opportunities to get forward -- he has scored three times on only eight shots on goal, a 37.5 percent conversion rate. As Schmid adjusted the tactics in search of more goals late in the season, especially against Dallas and Columbus, Evans said he has felt more like himself again.
"I have the freedom to get forward," Evans said. "It feels a little bit more like last year."
Andrew Winner is a contributor to MLSnet.com.