When the Sounders FC took on Tigres UANL in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League on Wednesday, Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid opted for a backline that featured his three most experienced defenders in the CCL competition.
Leo Gonzalez would start at left back for his 17th CCL appearance with the Sounders and 13th start. Zach Scott and his 14 starts would play right back. And Jhon Kennedy Hurtado would man one of the center back slots for his 11th start.
Joining them would be a new player making his debut with the Sounders. However, Djimi Traore is no greenhorn. The 33-year-old Frenchman came to the Sounders with 35 matches on the continental level in Europe with Liverpool in England and last year with Marseille in France.
He was tested early by the Tigres attack and helped with Gonzalez to clear a third-minute effort off the line. The rest of the way, he showed his veteran savvy and helped limit the dangerous opportunities for Tigres as the Sounders finished off the first leg of the aggregate-goal series trailing 1-0.
“I thought Djimi did well. I think he helped us in securing our defense, organized us well, cleared the ball when he needed to. He had good calm and composure back there and that helped us,” Schmid said. “Overall as a whole I thought the defense stayed organized and stayed disciplined which was important.”
Traore finished the match with four tackles, eight clearances and five interceptions, gaining possession for the Sounders on five occasions, all standout statistics on the night as Seattle limited Tigres to just one goal despite allowing 18 shots for the top team in Liga MX.
“We knew it was a great team because they have played very well. We knew that they were going to push forward at the beginning of the game, so we tried to stick together and to defend,” Traore said. “Yes, we got a bit lucky in the first half. Apart from that I thought we defended very well and we did a great job.”
The former Mali international gives the Sounders the depth at center back they lost with the departure of Jeff Parke, as Traore is joined by Hurtado and Patrick Ianni, who is out with a foot fracture. Scott also has experience as a center back and started there on opening night against the Montreal Impact.
Now with one match with the Sounders under his belt, the lanky left-footer can continue to gel with his teammates and have even greater influences on the match.
“I think in a few games I will be much better at understanding everybody and everybody will understand me,” Traore said.
Those opportunities will come quick next week, as the Sounders host Tigres in the return leg of the CCL series on Tuesday at CenturyLink Field and then their chief rivals, the Portland Timbers, on Saturday, March 16 in a nationally televised match on NBC Sports.