TUKWILA, Wash. -- After a standout campaign with Seattle Sounders FC 2 of the USL in 2016, the fruits of that labor have officially paid dividends for Nouhou Tolo.
Seattle announced on Thursday that the 19-year-old defender has been signed to a first-team contract. Tolo joined S2 last season after playing for Rainbow Bamenda in his native Cameroon in 2015 and started 24 games for S2 last season, playing a team-high 2,061 minutes.
Tolo spoke with reporters following Seattle’s training session at Starfire Sports on Thursday, with Sounders assistant coach Djimi Traore playing the role of translator, saying that he feels as though last season’s experience with S2 under head coach Ezra Hendrickson has left him prepared to make the jump to MLS.
“I’m very proud to sign with the Sounders because it’s a big, big club in MLS,” Tolo said. “They’ve been [MLS Cup] champions so I’m very, very proud.
“I learned a lot with S2, in terms of the physicality in the U.S. In practice, it’s very [physical] compared to [Cameroon]. I learned a lot from Ezra because he’s a good coach. …As a young player, I want to take it step by step and learn and be easy to coach. I have this opportunity and I’ll give my best. I’ll take my time. I’m still 19.
When asked about his impressions of Tolo after Thursday’s practice, Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer lauded the physical attributes the young defender has displayed in preseason.
The next step in Tolo’s development, Schmetzer says, is pairing those innate physical gifts and athleticism with the mental side and the nuances of being an MLS defender.
“Athletic kid. Jumping, running, all of that,” Schmetzer said. “Now, we just need to work on [the mental side]. If he can get that, he’ll be a good player for us.
“Making sure guys don’t run in behind him, making sure the gap between the left side center back and himself isn’t too narrow or too wide so balls can slip in. His choice of passing, getting locked in on one target when something’s open [somewhere else], there’s a lot of subtleties to the game. …Everyone can watch him chase some guy down the field and tackle him – that’s great. He’s got that. But some of those subtleties we have to work on.”
Tolo also said that his preferred position is left back, where the Sounders already have an established starter in Joevin Jones. Stylistically, Schmetzer said that while there are some similarities between the players, they also bring different attributes to the table.
“They’re different,” Schmetzer said. “They’re not quite as similar as we might think. In general terms, I would say, Joevin is maybe a little bit smoother, a little calmer, more technical. [Tolo] is raw power.”
For his part, Tolo says that the opportunity to be Jones’ understudy should only help his development as he takes the next step in his development as a professional.
“I know Joevin Jones is in front of me so I want to learn from him and take my time,” Tolo said. “On the national team, I used to play left wing and center back but I prefer to play left back because I feel like I have more freedom. I like to go up and down. That’s my game.”