Class of ‘16 alum signs with Sounders FC at 18

Hayden Evans, Staff Reporter
Originally published February 16, 2018

Handwalla Bwana as a freshmen in action while on the school team. During his sophomore season he emerged as the top goal scorer in the Kingco League. (Talisman photo file)

Handwalla Bwana as a freshmen in action while on the school team. During his sophomore season he emerged as the top goal scorer in the Kingco League. (Talisman photo file)

Handwalla Bwana became the 10th player from the Seattle area to sign with the Sounders on Jan. 11. After graduating from Ballard High School in June of 2016, Bwana attended the University of Washington and became a star player on their men’s soccer team.

Bwana moved to Seattle from Kenya in 2010, and quickly began playing with Seattle United and the boys soccer team. During his freshman year, he started on JV before getting moved up to varsity halfway through the season. He then proceeded to lead the varsity team in goals scored, despite only playing for half the season. During his sophomore year, Bwana scored five goals in his first five games and lead the team in goals scored for a second straight year. After three seasons, he was identified by Sounders Academy coaches as a potential recruit, and eventually signed with the Academy as a member of their U-18 team.

In the summer of 2016, Bwana made several appearances for the Sounders’ second team. At first, he struggled to keep up with the higher quality of play that he wasn’t used to on the U-18 team, but Bwana was able to adapt, and quickly began to turn heads with his exceptional speed and aggressive style of play.

When Bwana signed with the Huskies in the spring of 2016, head soccer coach Jamie Clark described him as “the most under-the-radar recruit in the country” during a press conference. That assessment proved to be accurate, as Bwana went on to score four goals and had seven assists over the course of his freshman season. Bwana was also named the Pac-12 freshman of the year.

In his sophomore season with the Huskies, Bwana recorded eight goals and six assists. He is a versatile player, and successfully played left midfield, right midfield and attacking forward. Bwana was named to the All-Pac-12 First Team as well as the All-Region First Team after his sophomore season.

Bwana has now played in two preseason games with the Sounders, and has scored a goal in both. On Feb. 3, Bwana scored a goal against the Portland Timbers which put the Sounders ahead 2-1 and turned out to be the game-winning goal.

Bwana’s childhood was filled with uncertainty. Prior to moving to the U.S., he spent six years at Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. Bwana’s mom decided that she wanted to take her sons to the U.S., but they had to wait for six years before their immigration request was approved.

When Bwana first came to the U.S., he experienced a great deal of culture shock. He initially moved to Atlanta, but after a few months his mother relocated the family to Seattle and took a job at Goodwill. During his freshman and sophomore years of high school, Bwana worked with Ruth Kutrakun on his reading and writing skills.

“Because of the situation that led him to the refugee camp, he didn’t have a lot of opportunities for schooling,” Kutrakun said. Moving from a refugee camp in Kenya to the United States was not an easy adjustment. “When he got to America, he was learning more than just English. It was more than just switching over to a new language, he was actually having to make up for lost time in school,” Kutrakun said.

Bwana’s athletic ability helped him make the transition from Kenya to the United States. His soccer talent translated to confidence in school which allowed him to succeed in the classroom despite missing some years of school while in a refugee camp. “He was very focused on using soccer as a way to succeed in his future,” Kutrakun said.

In Kenya, Bwana developed a passion for soccer. In the United States, he turned that passion into a profession.

Bwana was unable to be reached for a statement.