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Understanding the Handwalla Bwana-Jimmy Medranda trade

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Sounders flipped a promising Homegrown Player for some veteran depth and allocation money.

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps at Sporting KC Peter G. Aiken

When the reports first surfaced that Handwalla Bwana was being traded to Nashville SC, reactions were very clearly mixed. Without knowing a ton about who or what the Seattle Sounders were getting in return, it seemed odd that the they’d be willing to part with a young player who has flashed plenty of potential and been reasonably productive in limited minutes.

As the full picture of the trade started to come into focus, though, it’s a bit easier to understand. In return for the 21-year-old Homegrown Player, the Sounders are receiving MLS veteran Jimmy Medranda and at least $225,000 of General Allocation Money. The Sounders will also keep a percentage of Bwana’s potential sell-on fee as well as receive an additional $25,000 in GAM if certain performance metrics are achieved.

Let’s take a closer look at these various elements:

Why did the Sounders trade Bwana?

We’ve yet to hear from Bwana himself, but the Sounders say that he asked to be traded. That seems entirely understandable. Bwana had not played at all since Sept. 6, a span of eight matches. In three of those, he wasn’t even placed on the gameday roster while the Sounders left a spot completely open.

“We’ve talked very publicly about wanting to get our players opportunities and we want to continue to do that,” Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey told KJR on Tuesday. “When we run into situations where young players aren’t getting time they want, we’re going to try to move them out to get them those opportunities.

“We weren’t eager to do a deal, but we were able to explore the market and got what we felt was a fair offer from Nashville.”

If we simply look at his numbers, Bwana has four goals and three assists in about 1,200 career minutes. That’s something like eight goals and six assists extrapolated over a full season, numbers you’d be thrilled to get from a 21-year-old. Reading between the lines a bit, it seems as though Bwana was possibly falling short somewhere other than performance.

“It’s up to them,” Lagerwey said, seemingly alluding to some of those issues. “Do they apply themselves everyday in training? He’s got plenty of talent. He’s in the process of trying to push through.”

Is Nashville a good spot for Bwana?

Seems like it. Nashville has gotten themselves into playoff position mostly on the strength of their defense. Their 1.0 goals per game scoring average is the lowest among teams currently in playoff positions and is tied for the fourth lowest in the league.

With just one goal this year, Bwana would be tied for sixth on Nashville, a team whose leading scorer has only three goals. Chances are, Bwana will not only compete for significant playing time, but it’s easy to imagine him establishing himself as a starter in relatively short order.

Lagerwey also noted that Bwana was heading into the final year of his deal with the Sounders and will receive a long-term contract extension as part of the move.

Is this a good deal for the Sounders?

While it’s entirely within the realm of possibility that Bwana fulfills the promise just about everyone sees in him and turns into a bonafide star, it was looking increasingly unlikely that he was going to do that in Seattle for whatever reason. Given that, and his apparent desire to move, it sure looks like Lagerwey was able to get something like full value on the trade.

Medranda, by himself, is an interesting element to this trade. As recently as two years ago, he was regular starter on a Sporting KC team that finished the year at the top of the Western Conference standings. In the two years prior, he was arguably one of the team’s most important players both for his versatility and performance.

But his 2018 campaign was cut short by a knee injury and he’s struggled to get fit ever since. This year, he has just one 8-minute appearance, and that came way back on March 8.

Medranda has seen the most success as a left back, but he’s played all over the midfield as well. With five games left to play in the regular season and potentially four more in the playoffs, the Sounders know they need all the depth they can muster.

“We were also able to get a player who was attractive but has had a rough go recently with injuries,” Lagerwey said. “We’re going to start Jimmy working with [the Sounders medical team] and see if there’s something there.”

What about the money?

Still, the Sounders are well aware that getting the pre-injury version of Medranda is far from guaranteed. Lagerwey called the allocation money portion of the deal “the primary driver.” General Allocation Money, unlike TAM, can be used to buy down the salary-cap hit of any player. Essentially it gives the Sounders added flexibility when building their roster and makes room to add or keep a veteran who might otherwise not fit.

To look at it another way, that’s more than the Rapids got in exchange for Kei Kamara ($150k) last month or LAFC got in exchange for Tyler Miller ($150k) in the offseason.

“These are deals that have to be fair, good for both parties,” Lagerwey said. “It’s always hard to move on from prospects but we have to keep building our enterprise. We’re going to have some difficult decisions to make as far as salary cap and hopefully this makes some things easier.”

What does it say about the rest of the roster?

Medranda won’t even be eligible to play until the Sounders visit the Colorado Rapids on Nov. 1, and that’s assuming he’s fit by then. Unfortunately, that may be sooner than either Joevin Jones or Brad Smith are back from their injuries.

Jones suffered a high ankle sprain on Sept. 23 and has missed the last five games.

“We’re confident he’s making progress, but we aren’t going to rush him,” Lagerwey said about Jones. “Being healthy for November is what we’re aiming for. There hasn’t been pressure to rush him back.”

Smith suffered a hamstring strain during Saturday’s training session and didn’t travel for the San Jose Earthquakes match.

“One of the challenges is he’s not played a lot of games over the past seven to eight months,” Lagerwey said. “In the process of ramping guys up, we did our best in terms of managing him and bringing him up to speed. I would simply say let’s be patient with Brad. Let’s get him as much of a fitness and resiliency base as we can.”