Seattle Sounders rookie Handwalla Bwana impresses, flashes creative flair in his MLS debut

A dream realized.

On Sunday afternoon, Seattle Sounders midfielder Handwalla Bwana made his MLS debut. Despite the 1-0 loss to expansion side LAFC, it was a momentous day for the Sounders Academy and University of Washington product.

“It’s been a dream come true for all my life,” Bwana said. “From sitting in the stands for seven or eight years to actually come onto the field is something I will never forget.”

Bwana joined the Sounders Academy in 2015, making his S2 debut at the end of the USL season. After four additional USL appearances in 2016, Bwana transitioned to the men’s soccer program at the University of Washington.

He shined in his two years with the Huskies, recording 12 goals and 13 assists. In 2016, he earned All-Pac-12 Second Team and Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors. He followed that up with an impressive sophomore campaign in which he led the Huskies with both eight goals and ranked second with six assists, garnering All-Pac-12 First Team and All-Far West Region First Team selections.

In January, Bwana became the 10th Homegrown Player in club history. On Sunday, he entered the field as a substitute for Harry Shipp in the 64th minute in a difficult situation.

With a few marquee players held out of the lineup due to fixture congestion — Sunday was the second of three matches in a seven-day span — Bwana seized the opportunity to make an impact in his first competitive First Team minutes with the club trailing 1-0.

“It was incredible, I was so nervous,“ Bwana said. “We created a lot of chances, but just couldn’t finish…I was told to come in and change the game, and I tried to.”

Seconds after entering the pitch, Bwana played a dangerous header into the area off a corner kick. With his second touch, he delivered a shot that struck the crossbar.

Moments later, he spurned an attack that resulted in a goal, but Will Bruin was whistled offside. For the remaining 25 minutes, Bwana displayed an eager confidence on the left flank. He was successful in all five of his passes on the left side.

“You guys got a taste of what he brings, not just his youthful enthusiasm, but also the little bit of quality he has,” Head Coach Brian Schmetzer said. “He scored some good goals for us in preseason, so he was good.”

While the Rave Green were unable to find the equalizer, Bwana did his part in taking advantage of his opportunity. In a crowded attacking midfield, the youngster must impress the technical staff in each window he gets.

“I wasn’t expecting [to make my debut today], but the coaching staff believed in me and believed in my ability,” he said. “They gave a young guy a chance to prove himself, and I took the chance.”