On Thursday, Jan. 11, the Seattle Sounders announced the signing of University of Washington midfielder Handwalla Bwana to a Homegrown Player contract, the 10th in club history. Bwana joins a roster sprinkled with Homegrown Players in Jordan Morris, Henry Wingo, Aaron Kovar and Seyi Adekoya. Read more about the club's latest signing below as writer Joseph Mondello analyzes Bwana's skill set and where he'll fit in with the Sounders.
Style of Play
While Bwana has the versatility to play anywhere across the front four, he’s at his best as a classic No. 10. He possesses all the attributes one looks for in a central playmaker: 360° vision, elite skill, excellent technique, composure on the ball, fluid dribbling and a knack for scoring highlight-reel goals. A dynamic, creative attacking player, Bwana tends to find pockets of space between the lines, receive the ball on the half-turn and glide past challenges as he drives into the final third. If he’s given even an inch of space around the box, he has the ability to punish teams with a killer pass or a wonder goal.
“Handwalla has a different playing profile to most players we see,” said Sounders FC Director of Player Development Marc Nicholls. “He is very smooth and easy on the eye. He’s also very composed, possesses excellent technique and has a nose for goal.”
When Bwana has the ball at his feet, the game seems to slow down around him — the mark of a truly special player. He sees passing lanes that others can’t, and he creates space and unbalances defenses by beating defenders with his shifty dribbling or combining with teammates. Patient in key moments, Bwana has the close control and change of pace to ensure he retains possession under pressure, and he’s willing to hold onto the ball and ghost past multiple defenders until a pass or a path to goal opens up.
Seattle United and Sounders Academy
When Bwana’s family came to the Pacific Northwest in late 2010, he quickly joined Seattle United, a youth affiliate club of Sounders Academy.
“His soccer and, to some degree social development, in the USA was largely due to the influence of Seattle United with Jason Farrell and Jimmy McAlister,” said Nicholls. “Their club built a supportive network around him and from a soccer perspective provided him with an excellent and competitive environment. This enabled Handwalla to integrate into his new country and continue his passion for the game.”
He spent three seasons with the club, making him the first Homegrown signing in Sounders history from Seattle United.
Bwana quickly caught the attention of Sounders Academy coaches, who then communicated constantly with their partner club to conjure up a plan to bring him into the Sounders’ youth system, where he played one full season with the U-18 USSDA squad. He was named to the 2015-16 USSDA Western Conference Best XI.
“Our Academy worked with Seattle United to give Bwana increased exposure and opportunity,” said Nicholls. “This led to a full-time Academy signing, S2 matches and First Team training stints. His potential was clear to us the second we laid eyes on him.”
While still in the Academy, Bwana made six appearances for S2 in the summer of 2016 and, after struggling initially, he began turning heads with his creativity and electric play.
Breakthrough at University of Washington
When Bwana signed with the Huskies, UW Head Coach Jamie Clark described him as “the most under-the-radar recruit in the country.” That assessment proved particularly prescient as the Sounders Academy alum went on to lead the team in points with four goals and seven assists en route to being named the 2016 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year.
Bwana built upon his first season in his sophomore year, recording eight goals and six assists. Throughout his time with the Huskies, he played numerous positions, including left midfield, right midfield, inside forward, center attacking midfield and as a deep-lying playmaker/roaming No. 8. After leading UW in points for the second consecutive season, he was named to the All-Pac-12 First Team and All-Region First Team in 2017.
With the Huskies, Bwana showcased his impressive set-piece delivery, racking up numerous goals and assists from free-kicks and corners.
What to Expect
Roldan, who played a similar midfield role for UW, spent most of his first season with the Sounders out on the wings as he got acclimated to the professional game, before moving inside in year two. Expect Bwana to see a similar introduction in his inaugural campaign, with the new Homegrown likely to start out at as a wide playmaker.
Wingo, who played one season alongside Bwana at UW, cut his teeth and developed his game with S2 in 2017, making 12 appearances for the USL side. As Seattle’s newest Homegrown player adjusts to the faster play of the professional game, getting regular minutes with S2 will help ease his transition to the First Team.
“Like every player making a step up, he will need to adjust to the new level and find consistency over a longer period,” said Nicholls. “He will also need to improve defensively. Training with Brian Schmetzer and the First Team, and being able to play matches with Ezra Hendrickson with S2, will enable Handwalla to adapt quickly. It’s fair to say that we are all excited by his potential and that he will be provided everything he needs to excel and progress in the club.”