The past few years have been a whirlwind for Seattle Sounders center back AB Cissoko.

Born and raised in the Parisian suburb of Les Ulis – a fertile ground that produced global icons like Antony Martial, Patrice Evra and Thierry Henry – soccer served as a cornerstone of Cissoko’s childhood. His days were filled with practices for his local club, CO Les Ulis, and pickup games around the neighborhood with his friends.

Closer to home, the success of his uncle, Demba Ba, at the highest levels of the sport made his dreams of carving out his own career feel more tangible. 

“My uncle was a big example for me,” said Cissoko. “Since I was young, it was my objective to become a professional soccer [player]. It was a big opportunity to sign here in Seattle.”

Cissoko’s journey from playing for his local team in Les Ulis to inking his first contract in Major League Soccer has been anything but orthodox.

In 2019, he was on an amateur contract with San Diego Zest of USL League Two, the fourth tier of professional soccer in the United States. His performances in San Diego earned him a contract with the Tacoma Defiance before immediately going out on loan with San Diego 1904 FC of the NISA for the duration of the season.

Cissoko didn’t make his debut in one of the top two divisions of America soccer until 2020, when he appeared in 12 matches in the USL Championship with Tacoma. Even that was a surreal experience, as his first season with the organization was spent playing in empty stadiums during an unprecedented global pandemic.

Fast forward to 2021 and Cissoko has started five games for a Seattle Sounders side that leads the Supporters’ Shield standings and just broke the record for longest unbeaten run to start an MLS regular season.

“It’s just a dream for me,” Cissoko said of playing in front of boisterous crowds in MLS. “It was just a dream. No pressure. When the whistle and kickoff start, no pressure, nothing. I’m just excited and enjoy playing.”

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The joy Cissoko derives from soccer is evident every time he steps on the pitch. From the languid dribbling to the clever line-breaking passes, you can almost see the kid that honed his craft playing pickup in Les Ulis.

According to Head Coach Brian Schmetzer, though, it was the way that young center back relished the physical demands in preseason that first caught the coaching staff’s eye.

“He came into preseason and that’s when we got a close look at him,” said Schmetzer. “He made the team because he was driving Will [Bruin] nuts. Will and him would have these epic battles in training games and AB didn’t back down.”

Added Cissoko: “I like to play against big guys like that. I like the contact, physical play. Will is a very good player, very tough. I did well, I beat him, so that’s why I signed I think [laughs].”

The numbers support Cissoko’s penchant for physical play, as he’s posted seven tackles 11 interceptions and 14 blocks, all while completing 90.4 percent of his passes and completing 100 percent of his attempted dribbles.

Breaking into the league-leading Sounders was no small order for a player with such limited professional experience. But according to Schmetzer, he’s been impressed with the manner in which Cissoko has filled in for Nouhou as he recovers from injury.

“He exceeded my expectations,” said Schmetzer. “That’s all credit to him and Djimi and the work that he’s done on the training field.”

Cissoko and the Sounders return to action on Sunday as the visit Minnesota United (11:00 a.m. PT; ESPN, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM) at Allianz Field.

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