Prior to this week, Seattle Sounders Homegrown midfielder Handwalla Bwana’s previous competitive start came in a 3-2 extra-time loss to Seattle University in an NCAA tournament match last November.
On Wednesday, Bwana started in a 1-0 win over Mexican giants Chivas de Guadalajara in the first quarterfinal leg of CONCACAF Champions League. And he didn’t look out of place one bit.
“Handwalla, that was the surprise for all of us,” said Head Coach Brian Schmetzer. “The kid played great. He came on and didn’t have any fear of the game. There was no [hesitation that] this was Chivas. The game wasn’t too big for him.”
Bwana, just 20, was an anxious mixture of nervousness and excitement before the match. His hands shook as he tied his cleats in the locker room and his heart pounded as he walked out of the CenturyLink Field tunnel for the first time.
Bwana turned to his midfield partner Clint Dempsey and asked him for advice to calm himself down. Dempsey told Bwana that he is here for a reason and to do what got him here.
“One second you’re over here playing with your age, you’re playing with normal kids,” Bwana said. “The next thing you’re playing with pros. It leaves me speechless. At the same, it shows me that all the hard work that I’ve put in is starting to pay off.”
Bwana wanted to prove the coaching staff right for their decision to start him, just as he did in his First Team debut as a substitute against LAFC in the MLS season opener last Sunday. Schmetzer told Bwana to go out there and show people what he can bring and to do everything he can to help the team win.
“I was very impressed with [Bwana’s] composure in a big game,” Schmetzer said. “And you guys all saw the quality that he brings. He runs at people, can get by one or two guys, his passing is very clean.
“Probably the biggest surprise for me is sometimes you label attacking players as [players] who can’t defend or don’t want to defend,” he continued. “The kid understands his role. He’s a young guy on the squad and he’s gotta get up and down, and he did that.”