By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
Seattle Sounders fans who have been impressed with central defender Djimi Traore should know that the feeling is mutual.
“Here is the best club in MLS,” Traore said. “You can’t compare the fans that we have here — the fanbase here is amazing. I’ve been playing (with) the big clubs of Europe. I was lucky, I played in Liverpool, one of the best in England. I’ve been lucky enough to play in France in Marseille, which is the best fans. And I can tell you, here it’s the same. It’s the same level for me. The way they come to the game, even when we play away from home — especially when we play away from home — they’re still there.”
The Sounders have been away since June 8. But they will be reunited with their home fans tonight when D.C. United visits CenturyLink Field.
Traore, 33, is expected to be in the lineup again — as he has been for every minute of this MLS season since the Sounders’ second match. He was signed late in preseason and immediately filled a need at central defender after the offseason trade of Jeff Parke and early season injury to Patrick Ianni.
“We all know what he brings to the table and what he’s bringing to the club this year,” forward Eddie Johnson said. “He brings a lot of experience. I know for the back four, it’s a pleasure for those guys working with him. He’s a guy who’s played for a big team, who’s won Champions League. You can see the experience week in and week out, day in and day out. It’s just a privilege to play with him.”
Traore was born in Paris, started playing soccer at age 6, and signed his first professional contract at 17. He was part of the Liverpool club that won the 2005 UEFA Champions League. He also has 10 caps for the Malian national team.
When his one-year contract with Marseille ended, he chose to take his game across the Atlantic to Major League Soccer.
“MLS is a very, very good league,” he said. “When you are from Europe you don’t see it large. You’re thinking it is an average league. But I can tell you it is a very good league. I have been playing in Europe for so many years, and I come here. … Yes, of course, it’s not like there is a big star on each team you play. But you play against some young players, very good, and against some experienced players — international as well, and some very good, you know? And I’ve been surprised to play against some of the teams who play good soccer.”
Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said that respect for the opponent — and for the sport — is one of the qualities that allows players to successfully move from soccer’s biggest stages to MLS.
“If they were guys who go through the motions they probably wouldn’t have gotten to where they’ve gotten to,” Schmid said. “But even within that sometimes you have a range of commitment. But I think we’ve very fortunate because Djimi’s commitment has been fantastic.”
Traore leads Seattle with 1,530 minutes in 17 games across all competitions. He is among the team leaders with 6.08 interceptions and 7.54 clearances per game. He even provided a pair of important goals: the Sounders’ first in their CONCACAF Champions League match against Tigres on March 12, and the game-winner in the 94th minute at Sporting Kansas City on May 8.
He also has made a point of passing along his experience to younger players who still harbor hopes of playing in some of the top leagues Traore already has experienced.
“It definitely gives you a very comfortable feeling to be playing with a guy like that,” 19-year-old right back DeAndre Yedlin said. “He’s kind of like my big brother on the team — or one of them on the team. He’s taught me so much. And then to see the effort that he puts in day in and day out with being 32 years old or whatever. It’s amazing, and it motivates me to be a better player.”