Gateway: Sports

He asked for a shot. Two hat tricks and 17 goals later, Peninsula junior Evan Janson is team’s top striker

Evan Janson wasn’t supposed to be the striker for the Peninsula High School boys soccer team this spring.

First-year coach Alec Moore had the junior penciled in as a left midfielder. But Janson came to Moore before the season kicked off with a request: Give me a chance at forward.

“I just told (Moore) that I had worked on becoming a more attacking player,” Janson said. “The whole summer, I had just trained by myself to become a striker.”

So Moore obliged, and gave him a shot. He probably couldn’t have predicted what happened next.

Janson has become the team’s leading goal scorer with 17 goals, including two hat tricks, on March 19 against North Thurston and another just two days later against Yelm. Most recently, he scored four goals in a 4-0 win against Yelm on April 16.

“We hadn’t really seen anything from him, as far as being this serial goal-scoring threat,” Moore said. “We put him up there in training and he was just knocking them in — goal after goal. But you don’t really know what to expect until you put him in that spot in a real game.”

And even in the first two games of the season, which resulted in losses for Peninsula, Janson impressed Moore.

“It’s not just his goal-scoring threat,” Moore said. “When you look at that No. 9 role, that center forward role, it’s about, ‘How well do they hold the ball up? Can they allow your team to move up the field if you send it long?’ It’s a really advantageous tool in your kit to have someone who can give your attack some time. His touch was just magical.”

And then the goal barrage started to come, beginning with the hat trick against North Thurston. For Janson, the most important part of his success this season has been not overthinking it.

“That’s the whole game,” Janson said. “It should come naturally. Any time I’m near the goal, I just rip a shot without thinking, and they’ve been going in.”

Janson’s play has helped the Seahawks to first place in the Class 3A South Sound Conference, with crosstown rival Gig Harbor right on Peninsula’s heels. While Janson has some tangible traits — his striking ability, his holdup play, his movement off the ball — there’s also something to his game that’s a bit harder to define.

“There are some innate qualities that you see in a player who can just sniff out the goal,” Moore said. “They can be surrounded by ‘X’ number of people, and they fill a way to get a shot off.”

The example that comes to Moore’s mind is the rematch against North Thurston on April 11. Tied 3-3 in the game’s final minutes, Janson worked his way through a tight crowd of defenders and knocked in the game-winning goal to give Peninsula the 4-3 win.

“It’s that ability to sort of be unimpeded by the field around you,” Moore said. “He just has that X-factor that allows him to find the back of the net a bunch of times throughout the game.”

Every day in the summer, Janson would bring a bag of 10 soccer balls to the grass field at Purdy Elementary, and work for hours on his dribbling and shooting, by himself.

Janson doesn’t have the size of a prototypical dominant high school striker. His slender, 5-foot-4 frame might lead his opponents to underestimate his ability, though.

“Since I’m smaller, I focus on trying to be more of a pacey striker, getting in behind the defense quickly, something that bigger guys can’t do,” he said. “Instead of just posting up, I’m sprinting for those through balls and finishing.”

A lot of those through balls come from his twin brother, Grayson, a midfielder for the Seahawks. Growing up together has given the pair a unique rapport and understanding of each other.

“That chemistry comes naturally, so I know exactly when he’s going to play that ball in,” Janson said.

Moore drew a comparison to Seattle Sounders striker Raul Ruidiaz, the 5-foot-7 Peruvian footballer who despite his size, has a knack for scoring goals.

“(Janson) could have maybe five or six touches, but he still finds a way to put himself on the stat sheet,” Moore said. “That’s the ability to take your chances and to be clinical. You don’t need a bunch of touches on the ball to get confident in the game. He can get 10, 15 touches in a game and still have a huge impact on the score line.”

For Moore, Janson stepping into the striker role and excelling immediately has been a joy to watch.

“He just adds so much value to our team,” Moore said. “It’s a really pleasant surprise to see someone step up like that, take ownership of the position and just keeping working at it.”