Brad Evans has always been known as a bit of a "lunch-pail" player, someone willing to do whatever is asked to help his team win. That's primarily how he's managed to stay in the good graces of Seattle Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid and United States manager Jurgen Klinsmann. Need someone to start at any one of the midfield spots? Evans is your man. Need someone to start at right back in a World Cup qualifier despite limited experience? No problem. Has an injury forced you to use an emergency center back? Evans is your man.
Evans' versatility and willingness to expand his comfort zone has come to define him. But maybe that's a bit unfair.
Underneath all of the blue-collar play is someone with some impressive skills. We saw that again on Saturday. Late in the match against the LA Galaxy, Evans had the ball deep in the offensive end and surrounded by a couple defenders.
Normally, this would be a situation where we'd expect Evans to pass, likely backward. Instead, he did this:
Obviously, it didn't turn into a goal, but he did set up Lamar Neagle for a great opportunity. More than that, it was another trick in Evans bag that defenders will have to be wary of.
"It just came out of nowhere, whether it's someplace in my mind ... I guess that's where it is," Evans said about the defense-splitting move. "I wasn't thinking of doing it at the time. It was the only option. Adam [Moffat] had run out of the play, guys were stepping and it was just kinda something that happened.
"At the end of the day, it's no matter who the player is, if the defender is running backward and the guy is running full speed, it's difficult to defend. I keep that in the back of my mind. If I can push it past the guy and put them under pressure, if I lose it I lose it, at least take the chance and take the risk and that time it almost paid off."
The willingness to lose the ball, especially in a tie game, struck me. This didn't sound like the conservative player Evans had often been painted as being. I asked him if that was something new?
"I think before it was more concern over losing the ball," he said. "I think we've done good job of covering each other. Our outside backs, in the early part of the year weren't pressing up as high. We've put more emphasis on if the right winger does push forward, the right back has to push up and support. If the ball does turnover, especially a team like LA, they are coming right back down your throat. I think it was just being a little bit more aware on the defensive side and knowing that guys are covering for me and giving me the confidence to go forward."
That would probably help explain why Evans has generally been a more creative presence this season. His rate of .32 assists per 90 minutes is currently the best mark of his career and his five assists already ties his all-time best single-season total.
Looking ahead, it's not entirely clear where Evans best fits in the Sounders' ideal 11. Maybe it's as part of a double-pivot with Osvaldo Alonso in a 4-2-3-1 or as an outside mid in a 4-4-2. Maybe he'll get some time as an outside back. Whatever it is, there's no reason to think Evans has to be an offensive negative.
"He's always had that ability," Schmid said. "He played as an attacking midfielder and as a forward in college. That's something that he's always been able to do. He's been asked to play different roles in the pros."