All aboard the Nouhou train.
A fan favorite since he first broke into the First Team in 2017, Seattle Sounders left back Nouhou has been electric in limited MLS minutes in 2020. That trend continued on Saturday as the Cameroonian defender brought bundles of energy off the bench, playing a key role in rescuing a point in the 1-1 draw with Columbus Crew SC.
“Nouhou came on and did a great job,” Head Coach Brian Schmetzer said after the match. “He kind of sparked the crowd. He got in behind a few times.”
Despite falling behind 1-0 against the Crew in the first half, Seattle largely controlled the match, posting 56.3-percent possession and outshooting the visitors 17 to 5. That control translated into an Expected Goals mark of 2.06 for the Sounders to the Crew’s 1.06. Still, the Rave Green struggled to turn that command into concrete scoring opportunities.
Since he first entered MLS in 2017, Nouhou’s been known for his lockdown 1-v-1 defending and rampaging runs into the attack. In his first two starts of the season, both of which came against C.D. Olimpia in the Concacaf Champions League, he posted two tackles, six interceptions, 10 clearances and 14 recoveries. Where he’s fallen short in recent years has been the quality of his service, a critical trait for outside backs in Schmetzer’s fluid 4-2-3-1 formation.
On Saturday, he showcased just how much he’s developed in this area.
“Nouhou’s been getting better,” added Schmetzer. “His final product is getting better. It needs to be a little bit more consistent. But you saw he had a couple of good chances again and his crossing is getting better.”
In the 76th minute, Harry Shipp lofted a cross toward the back post that was nodded away by Columbus center back Jonathan Mensah. Crew SC winger Derrick Etienne Jr. appeared to have regained possession for his side, only for Nouhou to seize on the opportunity to re-press and win the ball back high up the pitch. He then whipped in a dangerous cross, which resulted in the Sounders being awarded a penalty that Raúl Ruidíaz dispatched for the equalizer.
When protecting a lead or seeing out a result, Nouhou has long been a preferred choice to shore up the defense, making over 30 substitute appearances in the last three years. But as his final third contributions consistently improve, he now offers a bit of attacking thrust when the Sounders are chasing the game.
“When you bring a player of his caliber, his speed, his strength – to be able to shut down a player but also make them chase him – it says a lot about this club to have a player like him coming off the bench and bring that spark,” midfielder Cristian Roldan said in his post-match press conference. “I felt like he did that in the previous game as well. He’ll do that. He’s a player that could be a starter on this team.
Nouhou winds up to hit the cross that earned a penalty for Seattle | Lindsey Wasson
“But when he comes off the bench, he’s effective. He’ll find his way onto the field some way or another because of how he’s playing. If he continues in this fashion, being effective and pressing after we lost the ball there and finding that PK, he’ll be on the field much more because he’s been really good for us.”
Nouhou has been such constant presence for the Sounders since 2017 that it’s easy to forget he’s still just 22 years old. As he continues to refine the attacking side of his game, further complementing his defensive solidity, he can develop into a two-way force for the Sounders down the left flank.
“We’re working on it in training on a weekly basis,” said Schmetzer. “If he can get everything together, if we can bring the whole package together, the kid’s going to have a bright future.”
Nouhou and the Sounders return to action on Saturday as they visit the Houston Dynamo in a Western Conference clash (5:30 p.m. PT; JOEtv, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM.)