Nashville SC

Nashville SC swaps Jimmy Medranda to Seattle Sounders for Handwalla Bwana

It’s official: Nashville SC is the proud own of a new homegrown winger prospect. In exchange for 23-year old Sounders Homegrown Handwalla Bwana, NSC sent veteran winger Jimmy Medranda and $225k GAM to Seattle Sounders. Here’s the ‘tails, from Club release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Oct. 21, 2020) – Nashville Soccer Club announced today the acquisition of 21-year old winger Handwalla Bwana from Seattle Sounders FC in exchange for Jimmy Medranda and $225,000 in General Allocation Money (GAM). Sounders FC could receive an additional $25,000 in GAM, if Bwana meets certain performance-based metrics.

“Handwalla is one of the exciting young attacking prospects in the league, and we feel very fortunate to be able to add him to our group,” said Mike Jacobs, Nashville SC General Manager. “His ability to threaten defenses both on and off the ball makes him a constant attacking presence, and his work rate on both sides of the ball make him a menace to play against.”

Signed as a homegrown player on Jan. 11, 2018 by Seattle Sounders FC, Bwana joins Nashville after three seasons earning valuable minutes with his home club. He made his Major League Soccer debut on March 4, 2018, and since then, he has earned an MLS Cup in 2019, reached the MLS Cup playoffs in back to back seasons in 2018 and ‘19, and debuted at the international level in the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League in a 1-0 victory over Chivas de Guadalajara.

At the collegiate level, Bwana made 39 appearances at the University of Washington, recording 12 goals and 13 assists. Bwana earned All-Pac-12 Second Team and Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors. In his second year Bwana led the Huskies with eight goals and ranked second with six assists, earning All-Pac-12 First Team and All-Far West Region First Team selections.

Nashville SC release

I took a very quick look at Bwana when the Washington Post‘s Steven Goff first reported the trade, and I’ll dip into further analysis on him in a moment, but first, let’s look at the particulars of the trade.

The Business

For Seattle, they unload a player who wasn’t particularly expensive to them from a salary standpoint (he’s on the reserve roster, and earning reserve minimum), but who also was surplus to requirements for the immediate situation – he’s played only 205 minutes this year across five regular-season appearances, plus 58 more in the MLS is Back knockout loss to LAFC. In exchange, they get a guy who’s ready to contribute immediately as a like-for-like (albeit left-footed) instant-impact player as long as he’s healthy. Medranda can be a piece that takes Seattle over the top for 2020. They have the flexibility to take the risk that he’s not going to be able to give a ton of minutes.

For Nashville, they lose a talented-but-often-unavailable player in Medranda (and his career in MLS has largely followed that pattern). Since they didn’t get much out of him – just one appearance this year – the loss isn’t felt too hard, and NSC isn’t in a position that such a luxury player is as valuable to them as it is to Seattle. Meanwhile, NSC is in position to give more playing time to Bwana than the Sounders are, plus he’s the second homegrown on the roster (joining Derrick Jones) eligible to fill either slot 29 or 30 on the roster next season*. Seattle grows Homegrowns… uh… at home (there are seven currently on the roster, while MVP candidate Jordan Morris was signed as a Homegrown and has since aged out of that status), and thus that status is less valuable to them than it is to Nashville in this particular situation. Nashville also sheds a little bit of salary (Medranda made over $150K in 2020; Bwana will make the reserve minimum plus whatever Homegrown Subsidy is applied to increase his payroll).

This is good business on both sides, a win-win that probably looks a little bit better for Nashville, considering expansion teams get a little extra allocation money to burn.

On the flipside, it does sort of draw into question some of Nashville SC’s Expansion Draft strategy: Nashville SC sent $125K in TAM, $50K in GAM, and a 2020 international roster slot to Sporting Kansas City in exchange for goalkeeper Adrian Zendejas, plus an unspoken assurance that Medranda would be left unprotected in the Expansion Draft. Eleven months later, both of those players have departed with 14 total minutes played (Medranda’s substitute appearance against Portland back in March). Nashville got a fourth-round draft pick (and potentially $100K in GAM) back from Minnesota United for Zendejas without his ever appearing for the first team, and Bwana for Medranda – while also spending _ in that swap.

I have used my passion, graphic design, to graphically represent this:

Obviously the nature of the 2020 season radically altered what Nashville SC got out of Zendejas (no US Open Cup, fewer games overall), while the delay in the season allowed rookie Elliot Panicco to develop into a backup at a rate that couldn’t have been predicted before the season. In addition, taking a gamble on a talented left-footed winger like Medranda made sense at the time, despite his injury history. Overall though, resources spent certainly look like they outweigh resources gained.

*Some of the money Nashville spent can be seen as cost not for Bwana specifically, but for the roster slot itself. Similar to trading an international sot for Walker Zimmerman (the caliber of player you’d expect to spend that slot on anyway), the way you account for it on paper and what the transaction actually means can be different things.

Handwalla Bwana

Bwana was born in Somalia, resettled in Kenya with his family, and at age 11 settled in the United States as a refugee first in Atlanta before moving to Seattle. He went to high school and played for the Sounders in the 2015-16 Development Academy (r.i.p. in peace the DA), then spent two years at the University of Washington, leading the Huskies with eight goals in both seasons, and leading in assists (also eight) in his freshman year. Bwana signed a Homegrown deal with Seattle before the 2018 season.

The 5-9, 145-pounder should provide some immediate – post-quarantine – depth on the wings (in the ways that injury, circumstance, etc. have prevented David Accam, Medranda, and Alan Winn from doing), and as a young guy, he’s one for the club to develop going forward. As noted in the “business” section, his HG status essentially creates a 30th roster slot for Nashville SC, as well.

He has played 1394 minutes across three seasons, mostly as a substitute for Cristian Roldan, Jordan Morris (the past two seasons – Morris missed all of 2018 with an ACL injury), Victor Rodriguez (in 2018-19, Rodriguez now plays in his home country of Spain), Harry Shipp (who retired before MLS is Back), and various others. He has also gotten situational use in formations other than the Sounders’ standard 4-2-3-1. His playing time has dropped precipitously this year with Morris and Roldan hardly coming off the field except in late-game situations – and Miguel Ibarra is ahead of Bwana in the pecking order as their replacement. He has made the matchday squad just once in the past six Sounders games.

In his time with SSFC, he has notched four goals and two assists, peaking with a pair of goals and one assist as a rookie, declining to one goal and one assist last season, and a single goal so far this year, with less than half as much playing time as he’d received in either of the previous two years.

He has underperformed his expected passing numbers each season (despite making more “safe” passes than average for the position), according to American Soccer Analysis. In spite of his very limited playing time, he has 1.06 Goals Added (G+) so far this season, good for second on the Sounders (behind Morris), and first by a wide margin per 96 minutes played. Obviously, the sample size makes that very noisy. It’s worth noting that in the individual inputs, he’s consistently right around average in dribbling, fouling, and interrupting (generally: defensive actions), and below-average in his passing. The improvement in his numbers this year – aside from the variance introduced by small sample size – is a large leap forward in receiving (getting into dangerous offensive positions for his teammates to find him) and shooting. With a small sample size and a young player… Nashville is betting on that being replicable in a new squad, with development opportunity.

He’s also gotten time with Tacoma Defiance – 476 minutes in 2019 and 242 in 2018 – mostly to start sharp when not getting regular first-team minutes. Obviously global pandemic situations play into all of it, but the lowest number of first-team minutes in his (brief) professional career, and no opportunity to play with the second unit… makes sense to find a different situation. Per Seattle’s Brian Schmetzer last night, he’s been pushing for a move.

He’s largely right-footed but can play with the left (per FBRef, 75.9% of his passes in MLS have come with the right foot), including a lefty finish for his only goal this year:

I was going to clip all of his goals and assists in MLS play (since it’s just a few), but instead here are a couple that demonstrate a bit of his style:

He’s a bit of a run in-behind guy, and while he’s hanging on (imo over) the back shoulder of the defender here, he’s also pretty good at arriving late in the box (as the MLS is Back goal showed) to receive passes and even rebounds in the muck. A guy who’s willing to do that despite his slight frame – obviously you can add mass, especially to a younger guy.

He does have a tendency to overthink things on the ball – which probably plays into his lower passing numbers – even though it sometimes works out. The technical ability here is good, for sure. It does seem like he gets the assist more out of luckl after being indecisive on the shot than out of some incredible vision:

All told, he’s a guy who’ll probably contribute just a bit this season anyway, with plenty of upside into the future.

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