Handwalla Bwana photo courtesy Major League Soccer
At long last, the fifth edition of the 2020 report cards has a guy who both saw action in 2020 and is expected to do the same in 2021. Of course, in this context “same” means “a whole lot more.”
Bwana was acquired in exchange for Jimmy Medranda and a healthy chunk of (allocation) change. The acquisition costs there certainly indicate that the expectations are high.
However, the acquisition timeline also indicates that Nashville SC’s expectations are that anything they got production-wise from him in 2020 were a bonus, and the contributions Bwana will make to the Boys in Gold will come in 2021 and beyond. The fact that the swap made sense for both parties, and why it made sense for both (Nashville acquiring future assets and a player’s Homegrown rights, a title-hunting Seattle unloading a future asset in an attempt to load up for the stretch run of 2020) only further underscores exactly how things will play out.
All that is to say that a few substitute appearances, and hopefully just a bit of production from them were about the max that could be expected for a player who arrived in Music City with a couple weeks left in the regular season.
4 appearances • 95 minutes
0 goals, 0 shots
0 assists, 2 key passes (0.30 xA)
21/25 passing (84% • 77.7% expected)
1.4% of touches on-field
-0.13 Goals added per 96 minutes versus average fullback
|Handwalla Bwana 2020|
|Dribbling G+||Fouling G+||Interrupting G+||Passing G+||Receiving G+||Shooting G+|
Since he played in two different places this season, I’ve included his numbers with the Sounders, as well. Both are very small sample sizes (he got only 264 minutes in Seattle), but it’s worth a quick comparison. The differences are likely more about the role of the position in Nashville’s system versus Seattle’s, as well as the competition played (Bwana’s minutes came against a Dallas team that finished No. 6 in the West, No. 4 East Orlando City, No. 10 East Miami, and No. 3 East Columbus – that’s a grind, whereas the plurality of his minutes with Seattle came against Vancouver).
As noted above, Bwana’s expectations are high, but the expectations that he had for the 2020 season were pretty meager. To make four substitute appearances and come away with a couple key passes… hey, it’s not half-bad for the amount of season that was available to him. That said, a more-offensive complementary winger to Randall Leal – as a change-of-pace to defense-minded Alex Muyl – could have been a bit more involved.
Not all the game situations required it – NSC came back against Orlando City without his being directly involved, while games against Miami and Columbus were decided before he hit the pitch – but certainly having 20 minutes to find an equalizer against Dallas would have been a nice time to put a stamp on proceedings. He had a key pass (on a cross) in that inaugural appearance in Gold. He had a solid passing day there (7/8) – and indeed, outperformed his xPass according to ASA on the year, an encouraging sign for a guy who wasn’t exactly executing a bunch of back-passes – but this is a results-based charting service, and there was room for improvement.
Bwana’s role on this team will be as a two-sided winger who can be the more-offensive option off the bench, with a few starts here and there. Given the amount that Nashville SC’s wingers do indeed flip sides (not necessarily that frequently during a game, but certainly between games, and there’s some fluidity to the roles in-game especially with a guy like Randall Leal floating inside), he’ll probably have to become a little more two-footed: per FBRef and StatsBomb, all but two of his passing attempts were with the right foot. That’s a continuation of his time in Seattle – though worth noting that the Sounders’ different system could have an impact there, too – and his best path to the field here is going to be as a more two-footed player.
Bwana’s also a skinny lil guy, and while that wasn’t a liability on defense in his brief time on the pitch to end last season, a heavier playing load and game situations in which more will be asked of him defensively (and possibly on the ball as a creator) would probably go better if there were a little more heft to him. He’s just 21, and has played most of his soccer career in the United States: physical growth isn’t late-bloomer status so much as it’s just a different developmental timeline.
Bwana is just 21, and the role he plays in 2021 will go a long way toward determining how the remainder of his career plays out. If he develops enough to give himself an opportunity in a bigger league overseas, Nashville’s acquisition of his Homegrown rights means they’ll benefit from the entirety of the transfer fee (i.e. there is more incentive to sell him on if that’s what the player wants). Otherwise, he’s an off-budget player – doesn’t count against the salary cap – for a few more years, and if he can be very productive in that time, it’s more than worth the investment from NSC’s perspective.
The worst-case scenario isn’t even half-bad: he’s a role player for a couple years, and Nashville SC moves along at the conclusion of his contract – after he occupied a roster slot that NSC couldn’t otherwise fill because of his Homegrown status (and the fact that the NSC Academy is not up and running yet).