Kapolei’s Shandon Hopeau was promoted to the Seattle Sounders on a Major League Soccer Homegrown contract on Tuesday, a move that was years in the making after Hopeau signed with the organization in 2017.
He will join the Sounders for the MLS is Back Tournament, which is going to be held in a bubble in Orlando, Fla. from July 8 to August 11 in hopes of keeping players away from coronavirus exposure.
Hopeau was 17 years old when he signed his professional contract with the Seattle Sounders FC organization, bypassing college soccer to chase his pro dreams right away. The MLS Hometown contract that Hopeau signed allows teams to sign players that were brought up in their development academies. After chipping away in the lower levels of the organization, the 21-year-old midfielder now belongs with the A-team.
“When I first got the call, it was kind of hard to believe because it was a dream way back growing up in Hawaii,” Hopeau told KHON2’s Alan Hoshida. “I always told my mom I wanted to be a professional soccer player. Once I got the call, I just kind of broke down, thought about all the hardships I went through growing up.”
Hopeau was a dominating force during his high school career at Kapolei, where once he scored nine goals in a single game against Campbell in 2016, according to Hawaii Prep World. He scored 72 career goals to go with 45 assists in his prep career and earned a spot in the prestigious HHSAA Hall of Honor.
The move to Seattle was over 2,600 miles away from home on the islands. Not only was the competition a steep adjustment, but so was life away from home. Hopeau says making those adjustments on and off the field was vital in his young adulthood.
“Not having my family nearby in reach also made it a lot harder,” Hopeau recalls. “It just came down from within. Perseverance and drive within myself to show up every day and push through and just get better every single day.
“It pushed me out of my shell. I think in Hawaii, I was a bit more shy. I didn’t really want to talk to people. But now I’m more open and I like to be out there and put myself in uncomfortable positions and that’s what makes you grow as a person.”
Just as Hopeau hit the ground running with the Sounders Academy and the Tacoma Defiance (the USL affiliate of the Sounders), he joins a team that is primed for success after winning the MLS Cup in 2019.
“It’s a winning franchise and they know how to win games, winning cups,” Hopeau said. “I think playing for this club, it’s a lot of pressure. They look for a winning mentality out of you and that’s what you have to have every day coming into training.”
Even though playing with the Sounders’ top level won’t be his first experience playing professionally, he knows what to expect emotionally.
“When I made my (professional) debut and I ran out on the field, it was probably the best time I ever had in my life knowing that I’m able to play and the coaches believed in me,” Hopeau said. “Now that I’m permanently with them, it comes down to being comfortable and knowing my role within the team, getting to know the guys and hopefully it all goes up from there.”
With all the other sports that Hawaii’s top athletes have to choose from, Hopeau understands that soccer probably isn’t the first choice. But if a kid out there in the future decides to pursue soccer, Hopeau hopes that someday, his career would have had something to do with it.
“I actually haven’t looked at myself like that yet just because I’m still trying to process everything that’s happened to me in the past couple of days but I think the biggest thing for Hawaii players is that it’s hard to make it out just because there’s no professional sports on the island, there’s no standards to look up to in person,” he said. “I think that makes it 10 times harder for Hawaii athletes and my goal for the season is to try to bring attention to Hawaii and show that there are good players out there and I want to bring more of them out here to the club or if it’s not this club, then any other MLS club.
“When they look at me, I hope they see confidence and a willingness to do good and do great things and the determination to always do good and always push hard in everything they do so that one day, they can be in my spot. I want to be a good role model for all the kids back home.”