Handwalla Bwana (Midfielder, University of Washington)
Prior to joining up with University of Washington, Huskies Head Coach Jamie Clark described midfielder Handwalla Bwana as one of the most underrated players in the country and likened his skill set to U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder Darlington Nagbe. After a breakout Freshman campaign, in which he won Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and tallied four goals and seven assists, Clark’s assessment has rung true. Bwana’s innate ability to ghost past challenges, as well as aptitude for unlocking defenses with a clever pass or scoring golazos from distance, makes him lethal in every phase of the game. With fellow Sounders Academy alum Henry Wingo signing a Homegrown contract and departing UW in the offseason, Bwana will likely play in a deeper midfield role, further solidifying Clark’s prescient comparison to Nagbe. As the most technical player on a hyper-talented Huskies squad, Bwana will serve a pivotal role in every phase of the game.
Jacob Hauser-Ramsey (Defender, UConn)
Defender Jacob Hauser-Ramsey is poised for a commanding junior campaign at the heart of the University of Connecticut Huskies’ back line. A truly modern center back, Hauser-Ramsey blends defensive steel with intelligent positioning and excellent technical ability. The Kings High School and Sounders Academy alum began his collegiate career with Tyler Junior College, leading his team all the way to an appearance in the national championship game before transferring to UConn. His first season for the Huskies saw the center back make 18 starts, garnering an impressive .77 Goals Against Average. Early in his career, Hauser-Ramsey played as both a defender and central midfielder for the Washington State Olympic Development Team, as well as the Regional squad. As a result, he’s developed impeccable technical skills and an ability to build attacks out of the back with line-breaking passes.
Paul Christensen (Goalkeeper, University of Portland)
Entering his senior year with the University of Portland, goalkeeper Paul Christensen has an opportunity to elevate himself as one of the all-time great Pilots goalkeepers alongside the likes of former Sounder and USMNT stalwart Kasey Keller and New York Red Bulls legend Luis Robles. Christensen, a former USYNT U-17 Residency ‘keeper, has already tallied an eye-watering 239 saves from just 54 appearances, good for seventh on the all-time list. Despite standing at just 6-foot-1, he’s dominant in the air and commands his penalty box incredibly well. An outstanding shot-stopper, Christensen blends disciplined footwork, athleticism and world-class reflexes with a very high soccer IQ.
Nick Hinds (Defender/Attacking Midfielder, University of Akron)
A left back for both club and country, Hinds entered the University of Akron hoping to follow in the footsteps of Sounders Academy alum and USMNT first-choice right back DeAndre Yedlin. But after Head Coach Jared Embick moved him to the No. 10 spot late in the season, handing the keys to the Zips attack to the Florida native, Hinds began to emulate the career of another program legend: Darlington Nagbe. After earning 17 starts as an attacking left back, Hinds burst onto the scene with four goals and one assist in his final four games, finishing his rookie collegiate campaign with five goals and four assists. Regardless of whether Hinds resumes his role as the No. 10 or returns to his more natural left back spot, his sophomore season is definitely one to watch. In the aftermath of a two-goal performance in Akron’s NCAA Tournament win over Villanova, Embick said that Hinds had the potential to be one of the program’s best players ever. With the Zips producing the likes of Nagbe, Yedlin and Steve Zakuani, that’s incredibly high praise for the Sounders Academy alum.
Harrison Kurtz (Midfielder, Clemson)
Of the players on this list, Kurtz is the sole player who struggled at times last season. After an illustrious career in the Sounders’ youth system, which saw him collect 12 goals and 33 assists across four seasons, the Seattle native only managed two starts for Clemson. But an impressive preseason in 2017, including three goals and one assist from three matches, Kurtz has an opportunity to be an attacking fulcrum for a college soccer perennial powerhouse. Much like Sounders Homegrown midfielder Aaron Kovar, Kurtz is a technically gifted inverted winger. Starting out on the left side of the pitch, he likes to cut inside onto his favored right foot to either play dangerous, in-swinging crosses or quickly combine before having a go at goal. If Kurtz can maintain the momentum established in preseason, expect big things this year from the Academy alum.