The Seattle Sounders suffered a double-blow on Thursday when they announced that their top two assistant coaches were leaving the team. The news that Gonzalo Pineda was joining Atlanta United to be their new head coach was expected, with Sounder at Heart’s Niko Moreno being the first to report it on Wednesday. But the announcement that Djimi Traore would also be leaving to join a still-unnamed European club in a “leadership” role came as a bit of a shock.
Sounder at Heart has learned that the Sounders will forego $75,000 in General Allocation Money that would normally change hands between them and Atlanta United in exchange for “future considerations.” They also see allowing coaches to leave for promotions — similar to the situation with Chris Henderson — as part of their culture. In the short term, Traore will remain with the team for at least the next three games, while Pineda will leave immediately.
Sources within the club have indicated that their roles would likely be filled by internal promotions, at least in the short term. Among the candidates to move into larger first-team coaching roles are Tacoma Defiance head coach Wade Webber, Defiance assistant Michael Morris, Director of Player Development Henry Brauner, Director of Scouting Sean Henderson and Academy Director Gary Lewis.
One person from outside the organization to keep an eye on is Ian Russell. The Seattle native played with Craig Waibel at UW; played for the USL Sounders from 1998-99; has extensive experience as an MLS assistant with the San Jose Earthquakes; was a highly successful USL head coach with Reno 1868; and joined Toronto FC as an assistant a few months prior to Chris Armas being fired.
“While this is a day I thought may happen, it is not easy to say goodbye to such accomplished players like Djimi and Gonzo, who transformed stellar playing careers into becoming two of the best young coaches in MLS,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said in a statement. “I could not be happier for the new opportunities in front of them. They have been essential pieces of our club’s success, both on and off the pitch. I have so much respect for their effort and dedication to help this club achieve success. I know they will be successful in the next chapter of their coaching careers.”
Both Pineda and Traore came to the Sounders late in their highly-decorated playing careers and transitioned into coaching relatively quickly. Pineda retired from playing after the 2015 season, spent a year doing broadcast work and then joined Schmetzer’s staff before the 2017 season. He quickly became Schmetzer’s top tactician, doing much of the prep work before games and sitting alongside him during games.
“As both a player and a developing assistant coach, Seattle has been my home now for many years, and I have grown to love the people in this community and all that it represents,” Pineda said. “I have learned many, many valuable lessons from Brian Schmetzer, my fellow assistant coaches and our players, and these are teachings I will take with me into this new opportunity in Atlanta. While I am very excited about the future and leading Atlanta United, I want to take a moment to say thank you to everyone at Sounders FC and the club’s passionate fans for leaving such a lasting impression on me and my family. It has been an incredible journey with you all and I am thankful to have been a part of your club.”
Traore retired from playing in 2014 and then served as an assistant on the S2 staff in 2015 before joining the first-team coaching staff in 2016. His influence on the staff grew considerably after Schmetzer took over. Traore was often positioned in the press box where he’d help make in-game tactical adjustments and worked primarily with defenders.
“It is with heavy heart that I leave Seattle, a city that has treated me like one of its own since I joined Sounders FC in 2013,” Traore said. “I’d like to thank every teammate, coach and staff member over the years for making me a better professional. I have been fortunate to work for the best coach in MLS, and I learned so much from Brian and my fellow assistant coaches. This next opportunity is one I could not pass up, as it will allow me to further develop my professional skillset in new and exciting ways. Seattle will always be a second home to me, and I wish everyone in this organization the best going forward. Thank you to everyone in this city that welcomed my family and for showing us such a great experience in America.”