TUKWILA, Wash. — Heading into the third match of their league schedule Saturday at San Jose (10:30 pm ET; MLS Live), it appears as though the Seattle Sounders have settled on a first-choice center back pairing.
Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Djimi Traoré have started both league games and have now started in three straight across all competitions. The Sounders have yet to allow more than one goal in any match, so "If it works, don't fix it," has become the motto.
“For the most part they’ve done a pretty good job in terms of a new pairing, being able to play with each other, being able to understand each other,” Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid said. “I think it helps that Djimi is left footed, allows him to play on the left-hand side of the field.”
The pairing looked especially sharp last week against the Portland Timbers, breaking up numerous passes into the penalty area, forcing their opponents to shoot mostly from long range and limiting them to two shots on goal.
Considering how much upheaval the position has seen since the end of last year, this is not an entirely expected development.
The Sounders went into the offseason expecting Patrick Ianni to take over for Jeff Parke, who was traded to his hometown Philadelphia Union after being named Seattle’s Defensive Player of the Year. But Ianni suffered a freak injury during a jump test shortly after the start of training camp and is expected to miss at least a few more weeks, leaving Zach Scott and Hurtado as the only experienced MLS center backs on the roster.
That prompted Seattle to reach out to Traoré, a player who had been out of contract since the end of the 2011-12 season after spending most of his professional career in top European leagues.
Traoré has hit the ground running. In addition to providing a stabilizing presence on the backline, he even contributed a magnificent goal in the Sounders’ CONCACAF Champions League semifinal-clinching win over Tigres UANL. Video of the 35-yard volley has been viewed more than 1.3 million times on YouTube.
“It’s a new experience,” the 32-year-old Frenchman told MLSsoccer.com. “So far, I’m OK. To be honest, I’m still learning.”
Adding another layer to the learning process is that neither Traoré nor Hurtado speak English as their primary language.
“My Spanish-English is like his French-English,” Hurtado said. “It’s good for me and good for him.”
And so far, good for the Sounders as well.