John Magnus may be 6-foot-1, but he has a way of sneaking up on you.
The Snohomish High School graduate is a soft-spoken individual, but his coaches and teammates on the University of Washington men’s soccer team will tell you he has a quiet wit that everyone on the team enjoys.
He barely shows up on the stat sheet, but Huskies coach Jamie Clark says Magnus is as valuable as any player in the Pac-12.
And Magnus serves as the midfield engine for a Washington team that sneaked up on everyone this season, and the Huskies now find themselves in the conversation for a national championship.
The NCAA men’s soccer tournament begins this week, and Magnus’ unheralded presence as Washington’s midfield anchor has the Huskies among the title favorites.
“We’re there to win it,” Magnus said in his understated delivery.
Washington has been one of the nation’s surprise teams this year. The Huskies began the season outside the NCAA/United Soccer Coaches top 25. But buoyed by a 10-game winning streak Washington finished the season 15-3 and as Pac-12 champions. For the two weeks beginning Oct. 22 the Huskies were the top-ranked team in the country.
A pair of late-season defeats dropped Washington from the top spot, but on Monday the Huskies were awarded the No. 6 seed to the NCAA tournament, meaning the Huskies get a first-round bye. Washington hosts the Boston College-Yale winner in the second round Sunday at Husky Soccer Stadium.
And Magnus is as responsible as any player for putting Washington in this position.
“I think he’s been one of the most dominant midfielders in the conference,” Clark said. “He’s an interesting player because he doesn’t show up in any stat category. He controls the game without getting on the scoresheet. I’m not sure a player of his quality ever gets the accolades he deserves. But I think people who understand the game and know our team know how valuable he is.”
Indeed, if one were to look at the Huskies’ statistics one would wonder whether Magnus has any impact at all. This season he has yet to record a goal or an assist, and on the stat sheet, which lists players in order of points, the two players immediately above him are the team’s No. 1 goalkeeper and a player who has one substitute appearance spanning nine minutes.
But Magnus’ contributions are anything but invisible. The Huskies play a 4-3-3 formation which means Magnus, a senior who played just one year of high school soccer at Snohomish before switching to the Seattle Sounders FC Academy, has the sole responsibility for holding down the center of the field. His job is both breaking up opposing attacks and launching Washington’s.
“I would say that (with) attacking I sort of facilitate, try to get the ball moving from one side to the other and get our attacking guys on the ball,” Magnus said. “Defensively I plug holes and put out fires.”
“He often has the pass before the assist,” Clark added. “He gives the ball to the guy who then gets the credit.”
Being the lone presence in central midfield puts a sturdy load on Magnus’ shoulders, but it’s a responsibility he was groomed to bear. Last season Washington played a 4-4-2 formation, in which Magnus served as one of two holding midfielders alongside then-senior Corban Anderson. Anderson’s graduation left the Huskies without a first-team All-Pac-12 performer. Yet Clark had the confidence in Magnus to switch formations this season, and it has paid off. Last year Washington went 12-7-1 and lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament. This year the Huskies, without any substantial player additions, aren’t even playing in the first round.
“If he wasn’t capable of doing it, we wouldn’t have given it to him,” Clark said of Magnus’ increased role. “But he’s run with it. He’s an older guy, too, and he has the confidence to show up in tight spots. Every game we’ve played well there’s a direct correlation to Johnny showing up and really running the game.”
Magnus does it while also maintaining a heavy school workload. He carries a 3.73 grade-point average while majoring in computer science and minoring in mathematics. He was recently named a CoSIDA Academic All-District 8 selection, one of 12 players from the West Coast to receive the honor. He’s been known to begin the day at 6 a.m. in one of the school’s libraries.
“I think it’s funny because it’s like he has two personalities,” Clark said. “On the field he’s such a boss, and watching the games you’d assume he’s this all-assuming person. Then he steps off the field and he’s somewhat introverted. But he’s a really sensible, smart, deep-thinking guy. Whether he continues playing soccer after this year or not, he’s going to have success because of how hard he works every day at what he does.”
So can Magnus and the Huskies continue their surprising season and win a national title?
“It’s going to take a lot of good performances, and probably a little bit of luck as well,” Magnus said. “It’s probably the same for most teams.”
Just the type of answer one would expect from someone who will sneak up on you.
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