Fans of the Shandon Hopeau-Justin Dhillon connection that powered Tacoma Defiance for a time are in for a treat as the two players are reunited in San Antonio. Hopeau, who signed with the Seattle Sounders first team in June of 2020, is headed to San Antonio FC in the USL Championship on loan for the 2021 season. The move should allow Hopeau to get the kind of playing time necessary to continue the 22 year-old’s development and demonstrate his potential.
Hopeau struggled for playing time in 2020, playing only 81 minutes over five appearances for the Sounders. The highlight of that time was his hard work to earn a corner in stoppage time against the Portland Timbers in October which led to a Will Bruin equalizer. While he struggled to find the field with the first team, COVID protocols prevented Hopeau from being able to play with Tacoma Defiance, meaning last year became something of a lost season for the Sounders Academy product. As Sounders FC General Manager & President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey put it, “loaning him to San Antonio allows him better opportunity for meaningful playing time in a different environment, and we look forward to seeing how he performs this season.”
This is the second such loan the Sounders have made for this season after sending goalkeeper Trey Muse to San Diego Loyal earlier this year. Craig Waibel, the new Sounders Sporting Director, discussed the likelihood of more of these sorts of moves shortly after joining the club as a means of evaluating the talent already in the development pipeline. “We have some young players right now, that I’m already familiar with, that are going to be on player progression planning that are expedited because they need to be challenged at a higher level,” Waibel said. “It involves everything from loaning players out, training them ourselves, playing them before they’re ready, putting them at levels to psychologically show them specifically what we’re referring to as an organization what they need to improve on and then communicating that back to them an training them appropriately.”
Hopeau has found a degree of success at the USLC in the past while playing with Tacoma Defiance. In 2019 he gathered 5 goals and 4 assists in 2,067 minutes while playing with a struggling Defiance side. Playing with a San Antonio side that won their group in 2020 before losing in the first round of the playoffs to New Mexico United should provide Hopeau with a more stable platform to demonstrate his quality while hopefully playing in his preferred role as an attacking winger. A likely impetus for this move is the transition to a 3-5-2 by the Sounders which effectively left Hopeau without a clear position. Hopefully the move works out for both sides and Hopeau is able to demonstrate the kind of dominance that he showed in flashes with Tacoma. Fortunately, should that come to pass, Tacoma won’t have to be on the receiving end as the two teams won’t meet during the regular season.