The Sounders FC is looking to become the first Major League Soccer club to win the CONCACAF Champions League in its current format. Now being contested for the fifth time while using a group stage to determine quarterfinal matchups, Seattle is looking to become the first team from outside of Mexico to win the tournament after Atlante, Pachuca and Monterrey have won the tournament in the last four years.
Unlikely tasks in the Champions League are not unfamiliar to new signee Djimi Traore, though, and the Sounders are hoping the 32-year-old centerback can help them navigate the path to Champions League glory after signing the veteran of 16 seasons in France and England to shore up their back line.
Traore was part of the historic Liverpool side that battled back from a 3-0 halftime deficit against AC Milan to equalize in the match and eventually win on penalties, marking the fifth UEFA Champions League crown for Liverpool in 2005.
“To be honest, it was not nice to be in that dressing room, but the manager found the right words to bring us back, and we did it. We were lucky, as well, but we did it,” Traore said. “To share that kind of story with the fans was very big. It was something that I’ll never forget.”
On Wednesday, he participated in his first training session with the club since his signing was announced on Saturday and said afterward that he hopes to be ready to play on Saturday when the Sounders open the season against the Montreal Impact at CenturyLink Field.
When looking for help on defense, the Sounders could certainly do worse than signing a player that spent 16 seasons playing in the top leagues in France and England, including seven years with one of the top European clubs in Liverpool, where he also helped them to the 2006 FA Cup. Last year, he played with Marseille in France, where he also played a role in winning the French League Cup.
“He’s another player who has experience at the highest level and played in the biggest games,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “He’s a guy who is going to help our team – help our young players.”
Though he has a lot of experience in Europe, a key point in the Sounders FC’s attraction to the center back who converted from the left back position, his move to MLS came as an opportunity that was presented to him by his agent.
“I got a phone call from my agent and he talked to me about the MLS and things like that. When I heard it was Seattle I was excited because from Europe I know it’s a very great club,” he said. “In a few days I will be 33, but I’m not coming here to retire. I know that the football club has never won MLS, for example, so for me it’s a target, as well. I want to be part of the history of the club. I want to be part of the team when we win the first MLS Cup for the football club.”
He joined the team in Arizona for preseason training and quickly jelled with the team. Some of that can be attributed to the welcoming nature of the team, but it also is a credit to Traore’s 16 seasons in Europe playing for nine different teams.
“I didn’t know anybody but it clicked like that. Maybe because during my career I’ve moved a lot and I know it’s very important to connect with people and talk with the players, especially when you’re a new player, because they don’t know me,” he said. “It was easy because I speak English and some of the experienced players have made me feel at home.”
He joins a center back group that includes a trio of fifth-year Sounders in Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Patrick Ianni and Zach Scott, as well as first-round MLS SuperDraft selections Eriq Zavaleta and Andrew Duran.
The Sounders open the MLS regular season on Saturday when they host the Montreal Impact. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 pm PT with local television coverage on KING-5 and the radio broadcast on 97.3 KIRO FM. They open the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals March 6 in Mexico against Tigres UANL, with the return leg falling on March 12 at CenturyLink Field.