This award is given by the readers of Sounder at Heart to the player under the age of 23 who had the best year in 2016. Members of the Seattle Sounders first team, S2, the Academy, and Academy alums still within the organization (potential HGPs and/or Sounders U23 players) are eligible. Staff has reduced the list of potential winners to 11, with former winner Cristian Roldan up to repeat this recognition.
Previous winners of the Sounder at Heart Young Player of the Year award are Roldan, DeAndre Yedlin (twice), Andy Rose, Servando Carrasco, Steve Zakuani and Fredy Montero.
Kyle Bjornethun (21) - Seattle U, Sounders U23s
The HGP-eligible senior with the Redhawks is scheduled to be at the MLS Draft Combine. Bjornethun started all 19 games for Seattle, tallying one goal and one assist and leading a defense that gave up only 19 goals in 19 games. Kyle also had 12 appearances for 1060 minutes with the Sounders U23s.
Handwalla Bwana (19) - University of Washington, S2, Academy
Bwana started 2016 as an Academy standout who played up with S2, earning 5 appearances (1 start) and 158 minutes. It was with the Huskies where Bwana truly shined, earning Freshman First Team recognition in the Pac-12. He earned 9 starts and 9 sub appearances, scoring 4 goals with 7 assists in 1059 minutes.
Azriel Gonzalez (15) - Academy, USYNT
Gonzalez dominated the Youdon Trophy when the Sounders U16s traveled to Sheffield. He continued to do well playing in the Academy (5 goals in 8 starts, 1 sub appearance) and earned a few calls to various US youth national team camps and competitions. Only 15, he already has a start for the Sounders U18s.
Nick Hinds (19) - Academy, S2, Akron, USYNT
Hinds earned 252 minutes with S2 in three starts at left back as an Academy player in 2016. As a freshman with the Zips Nick started 19 games and added 2 sub appearances. Late in the year he transitioned from left back to left wing. He ended 2016 with 5 goals and 4 assists. He also was called to the US U18s in 2016.
Victor Mansaray (19) - Academy, S2, USYNT
It is sometimes easy to forget how young Mansaray still is. He appeared in the USA U18s playoff matches over the summer for the academy. With S2 he earned 1370 minutes (17 starts, 2 subs), scoring 5 goals. Vic earned a trial in Norway and is still a consistent call to U20 camps and competitions. He remains Seattle’s youngest HGP.
Zach Mathers (22) - S2, Sounders
His three goals with S2 do not show his full value. Mathers typically played as the furthest forward of S2’s three central mids starting pressure and quickly transitioning into attack. Mathers earned four short-term calls to the first team where he started 3 US Open Cup matches, playing 244 minutes.
Jordan Morris (22) - Sounders, USMNT, USYNT
He won the MLS Rookie of the Year, scoring 14 goals (11th in MLS) in 40 total MLS matches (regular season, playoffs). Morris was second in MLS in game-winning goals with six and set an American rookie record for goals in a season. Morris played in Olympic Qualifiers, World Cup Qualifiers, and USMNT friendlies as well.
Mark O’ojong (19) - S2, Academy
The most defensive of S2’s central midfield, O’ojong joined the team after the season started. He would go on to earn 20 starts and 8 sub appearances, playing 1767 minutes with the USL side; he also scored two goals. He was on the Academy playoff roster in the summer.
Cristian Roldan (21) - Sounders
Roldan won this award in 2015, but he really came into his own in 2016. He started a combined 34 MLS regular season and playoff games, scoring 4 times and assisting 3 more goals. Cristian is predominantly deployed as a defensive mid who gets forward at times, though he did play as a right wing a few times. Currently the USA, Guatemala and El Salvador are pursuing his services as a full international.
Jordan Schweitzer (22) - S2
Originally signed as an HGP, Schweitzer played for S2 as on a USL contract in 2016. Jordan scored 4 goals in his 18 starts and 4 sub appearances. He was often the captain of the team, and when he was in the central midfield S2’s defense showed a dramatic improvement. He will be with Orlando City B in 2017.
Nouhou Tolo (19) - S2, Academy
Another young Cameroonian that joined the USL team after the season started, Tolo became the regular left back and earned praise from Garth Lagerwey. He played 2110 minutes in 24 starts. Tolo was young enough he was on the Academy roster during their playoff run.