Roughly 2,600 miles separate Seattle and Honolulu, but for the Sounders, they might as well be neighbors.
When Seattle Sounders FC 2 announced the signing of Academy winger and Kapolei, Hawaii, native Shandon Hopeau on Wednesday, he became the first player from a Homegrown territory to sign a professional contract with the club. Since the state of Hawaii does not have an MLS club, the Sounders are allowed to sign promising youth players from the islands to the Academy.
“We’ve picked up several Hawaiian players, all of whom have made really positive contributions to the Academy,” said Academy Director Marc Nicholls. “We’re excited about the future of Hawaii being our Homegrown territory, and we think that Shandon is the tip of the iceberg in terms of talent that exists on the islands.”
Although Hopeau is the third Sounders Academy product in club history to sign directly with S2, he is the first prospect recruited from an out-of-catchment area to do so.
“It’s a big accomplishment knowing I’m the first player [from Hawaii] to sign,” said Hopeau. “I’m not there yet, though, and I want to come in every day and compete for a spot.
“Coming from Hawaii I was a bit shy, I usually just have my mom do everything for me,” he continued with a laugh. “Now I’m on my own so I have to learn and start growing up.”
It wasn’t easy leaving home before his senior year of high school to join a new club on the mainland, but from Hopeau’s first match with Sounders Academy, it’s been apparent that the hyper-talented attacker thrives under pressure. Hopeau scored four goals in his first two games, against rivals Crossfire Premier and Portland Timbers, and subsequently caught the club’s attention.
Hopeau earned his first start for S2 within a month, and the Hawaiian impressed enough in USL play for first team head coach Brian Schmetzer to invite him to train with his squad throughout the run to MLS Cup. Hopeau said it’s been his favorite moment to date.
“I think being pushed out of my comfort zone and getting opportunities to play up [with the first team and S2] brings out a more complete player,” reflected Hopeau. “With S2, I just want to make an impact every game.”
Hopeau’s prolonged immersion in a professional environment has accelerated his development in recent months, and it showed when he turned plenty of heads in his Sounders debut in preseason against the Portland Timbers.
47’ - Shandon Hopeau has a very real chance to be the first Hawaiian to travel the Sounders’ newish HG pipeline. Trialing now.— Sounders Matchday (@LIVESounders) February 5, 2017
Although he missed several Academy matches while away with the first team, Hopeau has been lighting up opposition since he returned to the U-18s. In the six matches he’s played upon returning from preseason, he’s tallied two goals and a pair of assists. In all competitions this year, he’s amassed an eye-popping eight goals and three assists in 15 appearances.
“I want to come here and work hard every day with S2 so I can hopefully sign a contract with the first team next year,” Hopeau said. “The speed of the play in preseason with the first team has really helped me adjust to the speed of play with S2.”
While Hopeau is the first product of the partnership between Sounders Academy and Hawaii to ink a professional contract, he certainly won’t be the last. The islands are littered with exciting young soccer players, and several of the top prospects currently in the Sounders’ pipeline hail from Hawaii. Stanford-bound Kei Tomozawa (U-18), who has made several appearances for S2, and attacking midfielder Dylan Teves (U-15), are two premier talents recruited from the HG territory.
Hopeau’s contract should serve as a source of motivation, not only for the prospects currently in the system, but every young kid in Hawaii with dreams of playing professionally. Hopeau is blazing a trail for a generation of young Hawaiian soccer players to follow in his footsteps.
The Sounders have felt like home away from home for Hopeau, and he’s grateful for what the opportunity has afforded him.
“The fans [are amazing],” Hopeau said, “and the support that I’ve gotten on Twitter [since joining the Academy] makes me feel like I made the perfect decision in joining Sounders.”