TUKWILA, Wash. – Like most 16-year-olds, Stuart Hawkins is relatively new to driving. It was only a couple months ago that he received his license, recent enough that his parents aren’t quite yet comfortable with the idea of Hawkins driving himself the roughly 40 miles from Fox Island to Starfire Sports Complex for daily training sessions.
“My dad likes to take me, he doesn’t really trust me,” Hawkins said, half-jokingly. “But I think I’m a good driver.”
The Seattle Sounders seem inclined to believe the centerback is a bit more adept at handling new challenges on the soccer field.
On Wednesday, they made Hawkins the fourth-youngest signing in club history, also marking the first time the Sounders have signed a centerback to a Homegrown Player contract.
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Hawkins is still just 16 years old and a near lock to make the upcoming U17 World Cup. Since signing with Tacoma Defiance in June 2022, he’s made 22 professional starts, including 18 this season. Defiance are 9-3-6 in his starts and his xPassing grades out in the top 20 among all centerbacks in MLS Next Pro. He’s also already 6 feet tall with plenty of room to grow.
“He’s signing as a young man but after a couple years working with our performance staff, he’s going to be a beast,” Sounders GM Craig Waibel told reporters. “That, paired with his technical ability, his willingness not to panic and trying to pass, is something we value pretty highly.”
Realistically, Hawkins won’t have much role to play with the first team this season. The Sounders are reasonably deep at centerback with full Ecuador international Xavier Arreaga mostly being relegated to reserve duty, but signing Hawkins now falls within the team’s practice of getting young players on first-team contracts before they play in youth World Cups.
In the meantime, Hawkins will be further integrated into first-team training sessions, but primarily play for the Defiance through their final two regular-season games and into the playoffs before likely heading to the U17 World Cup that starts on Nov. 10.
In Wednesday’s first-team training session, Hawkins seemed to fit in well and even made a couple last-second tackles to snuff out scoring opportunities. Hawkins may not yet be ready take the keys on defense, but he’s proving himself a capable co-pilot.
“We’ve had him out to a bunch of first team training and he’s never let us down,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said. “I’m okay with signing because he always works hard. If we want to speed up development, how do we do that? That’s a question we have to ask ourselves. We’ve been really good at developing good players, but can we speed it up and raise the bar? Exposing him early will help that.”