Seattle Sounders FC 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 fan base 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. ... 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. They will be reunited with their home fans Wednesday 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, who 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?”
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 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.
“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.”
D.C. UNITED (2-12-3; 9 POINTS) AT SOUNDERS FC (6-5-3; 21)
Kickoff: 7 p.m., CenturyLink Field.
TV: Channel 6/16. Radio: 97.3 FM.
Head to head: Sounders FC leads 3-2-2 overall, and the series is tied 1-1-1 in Seattle. The teams played to a scoreless draw last season at RFK Stadium.
Notes: United’s point total is lowest in MLS, and its two wins match Toronto for fewest in the league. D.C. is 0-5-2 away from home and the only MLS team without a road win. The Sounders are on a five-game home unbeaten streak. United is last in MLS with eight goals. Seattle will be without Osvaldo Alonso (quad), while United will be without Dwayne De Rosario (hip flexor) and Nick DeLeon (ankle). De Rosario is tied with Lionard Pajoy for the team lead with two goals, and also leads D.C. in shots and shots on goal. Sounders defender Marc Burch spent five seasons with D.C., while United defender James Riley played three seasons in Seattle. United assistant coach Preston Burpo was goalkeeper for the second-division Sounders from 1997-2005. This will be the 400th MLS regular-season game coached by the Sounders’ Sigi Schmid, who will become the first coach to reach that mark. Sounders forward Eddie Johnson is one yellow card away from a one-game suspension. The referee is Allen Chapman.
Quotable: “They’re a team that continues to fight. And the moment you think it’s going to be easy, it’s going to be super hard.” — Schmid on D.C.
Next: 8 p.m. Saturday, at Vancouver.