SEATTLE — Handwalla Bwana has always had the talent.
The Seattle Sounders’ winger came to the club after a two-season run at the University of Washington where he became known for his wide array of nifty flicks, tricks and highlight-reel goals that led to him becoming one of the most decorated players in the Pac-12.
Since joining the Sounders as a Homegrown player before the 2018 season, Bwana has found minutes more difficult to come by due to a logjam of more senior players ahead of him on the depth chart. But given an opportunity as a second-half substitute in Seattle’s 2-1 win over Orlando City SC at CenturyLink Field on Wednesday, he capitalized, guiding home a Nicolás Lodeiro cross for what turned out to be the match-winning goal.
“If Nico has the ball and he’s looking up, you’ve got to run for the ball because you know it’s going to get there,” Bwana said. “That’s Nico. Even in training he just tells you, ‘If I look up, you just run.’ And that’s what I did.”
Bwana then channeled a Sounders legend for his celebration after the ball hit the net, pulling off a backflip that was reminiscent of former Seattle striker Obafemi Martins, who frequently employed the maneuver during his stint in Rave Green from 2013-15.
“I [flipped] at [the University of Washington] a couple times,” Bwana said. “I’ve done it since I was a kid. Probably started doing it when I was seven. But that’s always been my goal celebration.”
While Head Coach Brian Schmetzer didn’t necessarily approve of the post-goal acrobatics, he was certainly pleased to see Bwana find the net. With Jordan Morris exiting Wednesday’s match with a hamstring injury and Víctor Rodríguez already sidelined with the same ailment, the duo of Bwana and Harry Shipp will in all likelihood be tasked with carrying the load at the position in the coming weeks.
“You guys see, Handwalla, he’s got that little bit of flair, he’s got good technical ability,” Schmetzer said. “So, I’m happy to have both of those players that I can use when I need to.”
The Sounders are 7-1-4 and, at 25 points, are just two shy of LAFC for the top spot in the Western Conference through 12 games. But the coming weeks will offer their toughest yet on the season.
Seattle will play six of its next seven on the road, starting with this Saturday’s bout with the Philadelphia Union (4:30 p.m. PT; JOEtv, YouTube TV, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM), who are 7-3-2 and second in the Eastern Conference. That match will be followed up by road dates with Sporting Kansas City, FC Dallas and the Montreal Impact.
It’s the type of travel-heavy stretch that makes MLS such a difficult league, where depth becomes imperative, but Schmetzer said he feels his team is ready for the challenge.
“We have a good team,” Schmetzer said. “We’re going to be hard to beat because it’s engrained into our culture, into our team, into these players, they don’t like to lose. They never quit. So, when we go to Philadelphia, it’s going to tough, we’re realistic about it. We understand all that. But there’s no reason why, with the parity that there is within MLS, that we can’t roll a team out there and collect points on the road.”