TUKWILA — By just about any measure, Nouhou is among the most successful signings in Seattle Sounders history. Originally acquired by Sounders 2 as an 18-year-old from Cameroon’s Rainbow FC for a $500,000 transfer fee, he has since developed into a regular starter at both the first-division and international levels.
Still just 25, Nouhou’s market value is around $3 million coming off a successful World Cup in which he started all three of Cameroon’s matches.
On Wednesday, the team announced that Nouhou had signed a new three-year contract that guarantees him through 2025 and includes an option for 2026 (his previous contract had an option for 2024).
Here are some of the reasons it makes sense:
He’s a really good defender
Nouhou is not a prototypical modern left back and if you build your offense around that expectation, that’s a problem (like the Sounders learned last year). But he is an elite defender. Sounders GM Craig Waibel went as far as calling him “categorically the best 1-v-1 defender in MLS.”
Waibel’s observation is mostly subjective, but there are some numbers that back up the notion. Nouhou is nearly impossible to beat on the dribble — he wins about 80% of those duels — and is very good at defending crosses. In other words, he’s an excellent defensive matchup for wingers.
Found a way to play to his strengths
I wouldn’t say the tweaks the Sounders implemented to their shape this offseason were ALL about Nouhou, but they definitely seem to have been a big part of it. Without going over that territory again (just read this if you’re interested), the idea is that Nouhou defends as a classic left back but plays more as a third centerback in the build-up. This system also allows Nouhou the freedom to get forward — and he is a very good progressive dribbler — but requires him to be selective.
“We build in a different style, but there still are times when we can use his speed in the attack,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said. “I just want to keep pushing him to work on his final pass.”
And if Nouhou finds a way to repeat his breakthrough goal from a year ago? He says he’s got a special dance all cooked up.
“It’s coming,” he said. “Don’t worry.”
Everyone seems to like him
The occasional outburst aside — like his on-field argument with Yeimar Gomez Andrade during the Real Salt Lake match — Nouhou seems to be a popular personality in the locker room. That’s even more true among the fanbase, where Nouhou has a cult-like following.
This Instagram post by the Sounders actually sums up why that is pretty succinctly:
That’s not to suggest Nouhou’s personality has always manifested itself in purely positive ways, but on balance it seems to work for him.
“I talked to him about maturing,” Schmetzer said. “He can be a little goofy on the field, his antics, you can grow out of some of that stuff but I don’t want him to change. I do want him to mature and understand as he gets older he has more responsibility.”
He wants to be here
A general rule of professional sports is “never say forever.” Just because Nouhou is now under club control through 2026, that is not a guarantee he’ll be here that long. But part of the Sounders’ comfort in signing him to that extension is a belief that both sides would be perfectly fine if that’s how it plays out.
“We want players who want to be here and want this to feel like family and who want it to feel like home,” Waibel said. “We don’t want players who use our brand for a year, year-and-a-half and then leave.
“We are a mature organization and understand that this might not be the end destination for every player, but we want players who want to be here and want to be part of what we’re doing. We want them to want to interact with our community, not just our club. It’s not just about showing up on this field for two hours a day, it’s about showing up in Seattle and being a part of it.”
It secures the Sounders’ investment
There was a general belief that if Nouhou played well in the World Cup, transfer offers would come rolling in. Despite Nouhou starting all three games and acquitting himself well, those offers have not come. That’s likely at least partially a function of the calendar.
Under his old contract, it would have created a situation where teams could have reached out to Nouhou this summer — when most of Europe is in its offseason — and created a situation where the Sounders’ contract option would have been potentially tenuous.
The extension removes any of that gray area, meaning any team interested in signing Nouhou will have to pay a transfer fee to obtain his services.
“If he spends the rest of his career here, that’s great,” Waibel said. “If someone comes calling and it matches up with his aspirations we’ll have another conversation. The contract recognizes the work he’s done and gives him the security to know that no move has to happen. We’ll see if something comes up.”