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Cameroonian left back ready to learn

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Nouhou Tolo is good—but he wants to be even better.

Even though Seattle Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey noted offhand this week that S2’s Nouhou Tolo would be on the first team roster this season, the club made Tolo’s signing official today. The 19-year-old Cameroonian defender impressed the coaching staff enough in his 24 matches with S2 that they decided to promote him to the squad in order to back up Joevin Jones at left-back. Through assistant coach Djimi Traore (the only staff member who speaks French), Tolo told the media on Thursday “I’m very proud to sign with the Sounders because it’s a big, big club in MLS and they are champions, so I’m very, very proud.”

Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer praised Tolo’s athletic ability, and said the next goal for him will be working on the mental side of his game: “If he can get that, he will be a good player for us.”

Schmetzer said that, in particular, he wants Tolo to work on “making sure guys don’t run in behind him, making sure the gap between the left-sided center back and himself is not too narrow or too wide so balls can slip in.” He also noted that Tolo needs to work on his decision-making on the ball, and having the vision to not get locked into a certain pass when another option has presented itself. The Sounders coach calls those some of the “subtleties” of soccer that not everybody sees or catches onto with a casual look.

Luckily for both the player and the team, Tolo has an exceptional left-back above him in the depth chart, and he said he hopes to learn a lot from Jones in the 2017 season. “As a young player, I want to think step by step, learn, and if the coach gives me the opportunity, I will give my best,” Tolo said.

Schmetzer noted that, while Tolo and Jones are similar in some ways, they differ in a handful of important areas. “I think Joevin is a little smoother, a little calmer, more technical. Again, Nou is just raw power. He’s a raw power kid.” So even though Tolo has far more to learn from Jones, the veteran left-back (even though he’s only 25) could probably learn a thing or two from the youngster.

The Sounders’ coaching staff will probably play big role in Tolo’s development this year too. He said that S2 head coach Ezra Hendrickson played a big role in his improvement in 2016, and that Schmetzer also attended S2 sessions on occasion and gave him advice and feedback on his play. This season, I expect Traore to be a huge influence on Tolo, not least because he’s the only member of the first team staff that speaks his language.

Schmetzer also said that players respect Traore’s accomplishments as a player—especially the Champions League medal he won with Liverpool in 2005. “Djimi’s played left-back some in his career as well, so there are a ton of reasons why that’s a good connection,” Schmetzer said. Tolo said that he started to get used to the physicality inherent in the US game, and that he expects that working with Traore will help him make the jump to MLS play.