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Sounders sign Abdoulaye Cissoko to First Team contract

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USL Championship centerback bolsters depth along the back line.

Tacoma Defiance, Abdoulaye Cissoko Charis Wilson / Sounders FC Communications

Jordy Delem’s injury against the San Jose Earthquakes left the Seattle Sounders a little shorthanded when it comes to defensive depth. Delem’s primary position since joining the organization has been as a defensive midfielder, a position where the club is well-stocked. With the transition to a 3-5-2 formation in 2021 Delem was in line to see more of his minutes as a centerback, a role he often plays with the Martinique national team. But without him Brian Schmetzer only had the four players arguably in line for starters’ minutes in the back three. Enter Abdoulaye Cissoko.

The Sounders announced on Friday that Cissoko had signed with the first team. The 21-year-old CB joined Tacoma Defiance in 2020 after signing from NISA club San Diego 1904 FC. During the shortened 2020 USL Championship season, he played in 12 of Tacoma’s 16 games, starting 9 times including the final six games. He made one start as a right back, as well as starts as both left and right sided CB in a back-four and in the center and right side of a back-three. That versatility should allow him to provide cover to any of the starting CBs, as well as possibly filling in for Alex Roldan in a pinch. As an added bonus, over the course of preseason Cissoko became the primary penalty taker for Tacoma, demonstrating his ability with an emphatic finish to secure a draw in the team’s 2021 opener against LA Galaxy II. He’s not played in the last two Defiance games, possibly in anticipation of this announcement.

Schmetzer said he first became convinced that Cissoko could play at the MLS level during preseason training when the centerback matched up against Will Bruin and held his own against the bruising forward.

“I thank Will Bruin because the battle between Cissoko and his ability to hang with Will gave me the confidence to sign him,” Schmetzer said.

A source indicated that the Sounders are unlikely to make additional signings before the close of the primary transfer window on June 1. The secondary window opens on July 7, at which point another source indicated confidence that the Sounders would at least sign a U22 initiative player and potentially others.

Cissoko is young, and relatively inexperienced with less than 1,000 professional minutes under his belt. Listed at 6’3” and 192 lbs., he’s got the size to hold his own against most physical attackers, and can serve as a target on set pieces and corners. He’s also not afraid to use his frame to cut out passes or get in the way of shots or crosses. He uses his long legs to good effect when poking the ball away from opponents, and puts himself in good position to break up play regularly.

Cissoko’s passing will be of particular interest, given the desire to use possession with both Seattle and Tacoma. Among regular contributors in 2020, his 86.7% passing accuracy was the best on the team. He managed that number while averaging 45.6 passes per 90 minutes. His passing was especially tidy in his own half, where his accuracy jumped up to 94%. He’s capable of more than just simple passes, regularly showing off a solid diagonal ball that allows him to switch the field of play and open the game up from his CB spot. His 54.5% accuracy on long passes was among the best on the team, and only three field players attempted more than his 66 long passes.

Cissoko was among the team leaders in most defensive categories in 2020. He averaged a 58% success rate on duels, 60% on aerial duels, and won 52% of his tackles. The jump to the MLS level is a significant one, especially for defenders, but simply being in the First Team environment should be beneficial to his development.

Cissoko’s journey to the Sounders First Team is one that follows a well-worn path from Tacoma to Seattle. That path has mostly been taken by players with Sounders Academy connections but has also notably been taken by Nouhou and Delem (although they went from Tukwila to Seattle, technically). Those are pretty solid footsteps to be following in. Cissoko’s signing brings the Sounders active senior roster to 24 players.

“It was the most important decision of my life to come to the USA,” Cissoko said after signing. “I’m very proud. I grew as a player, I grew as a man and I’m thankful for the Sounders organization for giving me that chance.”

He said he’ll continue to wear the No. 92 he wore with the Defiance throughout his Defiance career as a nod to the town of his birth Sevres, France whose postal code is (92)300.

The one knock against Cissoko is that he occupies an international roster spot, but that was deemed less problematic after Raúl Ruidíaz obtained his green card and gave the Sounders three open spots.

CURRENT SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC ROSTER (25 on active roster)

GOALKEEPERS (4): Stefan Cleveland, Stefan Frei, Spencer Richey, Andrew Thomas

DEFENDERS (8): Yeimar Gómez Andrade, Xavier Arreaga, Abdoulaye Cissoko, Jimmy Medranda, Nouhou, Shane O’Neill, Alex Roldan, Brad Smith

MIDFIELDERS (9): Josh Atencio, Reed Baker-Whiting, Jordy Delem, Ethan Dobbelaere, João Paulo, Danny Leyva, Nicolás Lodeiro, Cristian Roldan, Kelyn Rowe

FORWARDS (4): Will Bruin, Fredy Montero, Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez, Raúl Ruidíaz

PLAYERS ON LOAN (3): Shandon Hopeau (San Antonio FC), Jordan Morris (Swansea City), Trey Muse (San Diego Loyal SC)