On Tuesday, Sounders FC announced the signing of Tacoma Defiance and Sounders Academy product Shandon Hopeau, making him the third Homegrown signing in the past month.
Hailing from Hawaii, Monday’s announcement was the culmination of years of hard work and the realization of a goal set for himself when he left his home to join the club’s youth system in 2016.
“It’s a great opportunity for me, coming a long way from the Academy to Tacoma to now,” said Hopeau. “I’m really excited to get started.”
Hopeau, 21, has long been heralded as an elite talent, making waves with stunning goals and flashes of brilliance when he joined Sounders Academy as a 17-year-old prospect. That promise in the youth ranks was rewarded with a professional contract, signing with the Defiance on a full-time basis in 2017.
“Shandon has been in our system for a long time,” said Defiance Head Coach Chris Little. “We’re delighted that he’s earned the opportunity with the First Team.”
A technical, pacey and clever winger, Hopeau took some time to acclimate to the physicality and speed of the USL Championship. While he struggled a bit for consistency early on, he always managed to pull off moments of brilliance, reinforcing that his unique skill set could translate to the professional game.
“I think we started to see in this last year that he’s developed physically,” noted Little. “At the professional level now playing against men, he’s standing out physically. He has the ability to impact games, and to isolate and beat players off the dribble 1-v-1. He’s really worked on his ability to stretch the line with penetrating runs in behind.”
From 28 appearances with Tacoma in the USL Championship last season, Hopeau posted five goals and four assists as a winger. On the other side of the ball, the Academy alum showed marked improvement in his defending, as his tackles and duels won jumped 33-percent and 27.7-percent from 2018, respectively.
That growth on both sides of the ball is reflected in his mentality about signing a Homegrown contract, as he’s willing to put in the grueling work to help the whole squad get better.
“I’m going to what I can to help the team get a win every game,” said Hopeau. “I’m going to put in the in work every training session and hopefully get some playing time.”
With the ever-changing landscape of youth development in this country, there appears to be a baked-in expectation that young players should break into the First Team right away. While Hopeau is in his fourth season as a professional, he’s still a full year younger than most college players when they enter MLS. And at his young age, he’s already amassed 70 professional matches, totaling almost 5,000 minutes in the rapidly improving USL Championship.
“We always tell the guys that it’s not a race,” said Little. “It’s not how quickly you can sign a First Team contract – that’s the next step, of course – but for us they’ll sign a contract when they think you’re ready.
“Technically and tactically, playing that many games in tough environments against good teams in the USL has helped prepare him. We feel like he’s ready to go in there and compete, and hopefully he can earn some opportunities through good performances with the First Team.”
With the team preparing to return to play at the MLS is Back Tournament in a couple of weeks, Hopeau is eager to contribute as the Sounders compete for another trophy.
“My main goal coming into the team is knowing my role and executing everything the coaches want me to do to get wins.”