In 2013, Djimi Traore – an experienced defender with Premier League and Ligue 1 experience and a winner of the 2005 UEFA Champions League with Liverpool – came to the Seattle Sounders on trial.
Six months removed from his contract expiring at Marseille, the then-32-year-old defender was trying to decide his next move, keeping in mind the best interest of his pregnant wife and young son.
And that is how a player with over 200 career appearances in Europe showed up at Sounders preseason with little fanfare. His quality was noticed immediately.
“I think after one training they saw what I could bring to the team and they signed me,” Traore said. “When I arrived here in the U.S., I knew what I wanted… To be honest, before I moved there I didn’t know where Seattle was on a map because when I went to America it was to the same places: New York, Los Angeles, Miami. It was new for us, but we enjoyed it straight away.”
In those early days in the PNW, Traore never could have imagined the long-term impact Seattle would have on his life. As someone who always plans one step ahead, Traore knew he wanted to pursue a coaching career when his playing days ended. In all, Traore played for 10 pro clubs – he planted his roots at the last one.
Djimi Traore, right, celebrates winning the 2014 Supporters' Shield with Obafemi Martins at CenturyLink Field. | Corky Trewin
“When you finish your career, when you retire, it’s like you die somewhere. You have to create a new life,” Traore said.
A couple months after wrapping up his professional career, a successful campaign that saw the Seattle Sounders win the 2014 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and the Supporters’ Shield, Traore returned to preseason with a different title: Assistant Coach.
“I’ve been lucky that the Sounders gave me an opportunity to coach,” he said. “Of course, I was like a rookie. It was something new for me.”
In 2015, he worked under longtime MLS defender Ezra Hendrickson, who was appointed as Head Coach of the Sounders’ expansion USL side: Sounders FC 2. Traore pursued his new role with an eagerness and an unyielding joy.
Djimi Traore helps run a session during his time as Assistant Coach of S2. | Charis Wilson
“I started with S2 and it was amazing – I enjoyed every single minute,” Traore said. “It was a challenge I looked forward to. I always carried myself that way. I was never thinking about taking the easy path – I love the challenge. It’s how I feel as a coach, I always want to improve.”
A year later, he was on the First Team coaching staff serving as defensive specialist as Seattle went on to win MLS Cup for the first time in club history.
Seven years after first arriving in Seattle, he has established himself as both a local resident and successful coach. The entire player roster has changed since his first season in Rave Green, and former Assistant Coach Brian Schmetzer has been the head boss since late July 2016.
Assistant Coach Djimi Traore, seen here at the 2020 preseason camp in Long Beach, feels right at home on the training ground. | Josh Lavallee
“I approach my life and my career the same way: step by step,” Traore reiterated. “Right now I’m doing my coaching license. I started a few years ago, step by step. I got my UEFA B license, then a few months ago I did my A license, and then I start my Pro license in May. Step by step, it’s how you grow as a coach.”
In addition to his own coaching licensing pursuits, Traore has his work cut out for him heading into the 2020 season. Gone are veteran defenders Brad Smith, Román Torres and Kim Kee-hee – three of the four defenders who started the 2019 MLS Cup. Joevin Jones will likely return to left back, while newcomer Yeimar Gómez Andrade pairs up with last year’s summer signing, Xavier Arreaga.
“This year we will have a new back line, but I am not worried because we have a big piece like Stefan Frei, a goalkeeper who has been there many years,” Traore said. “It will be a good challenge, but I am ready for it.”