Osvaldo Alonso has been a great find for Sounders FC
Midfielder Osvaldo Alonso is considered by some to be Sounders FC's most important player. Alonso, who defected from Cuba two years ago, is driven by his dream of succeeding at the highest level of soccer in the U.S. and thoughts of the family and life he left behind.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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Ask Osvaldo Alonso why he is having such a good first season in Major League Soccer, and he'll tell you — best expressed in Spanish — that he is driven by thoughts of his family in his native Cuba.
Alonso defected to the United States two summers ago. He hopes to see his family again.
"It's hard to talk about it," the Sounders FC midfielder said. "Who knows when I'm going to return [to Cuba] and see them again? It's been a long time, and it's difficult for me. I want to so much. It was so hard for me to make the decision to leave, and it affected me a lot mentally the first few months."
Time has healed some of the emotional wounds. But it was hard to walk away from his teammates and friends on the Cuban national team, his homeland and especially family. Everything since the moment he exited a Wal-Mart in Houston, where he had been shopping with teammates during the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup, is much easier to handle.
Things like learning American culture and how to speak English. Like going from Texas to Miami to Los Angeles to Charleston, S.C., to Seattle — mostly by bus — just to play the sport he loves at the highest level he can. Alonso, 23, takes it all in stride while he supports himself and adjusts to MLS.
The soccer part seems to be the easiest. Alonso's play is a big reason why Sounders FC, an expansion team not expected to be so successful so soon, is in second place in the MLS Western Conference with a 4-2-1 record.
Soccer purists will tell you that stats are not the biggest measurements of the quality of a player. Which is why a great many Sounders FC fans believe Alonso is the Rave Green's most valuable player.
As defensive central midfielder, Alonso is everywhere, which makes his the most challenging position. Once in a while he moves forward to help guide the attack or make quick runs with the ball toward the goal in search of a pass or shot. He mainly plays back on defense, makes smart passes, keeps possession of the ball and organizes the next push forward.
The numbers are there, too. Alonso leads Seattle in assists with three and is one of just four players to have played every minute of every regular-season game. Alonso, not one to shy away from contact despite his wispy build (listed generously as 5 feet 11, 165 pounds), leads the team in yellow cards with three.
"It's always important on a team to have players that what I call are 'givens,' " Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid said. "You know what they're going to give you game in and game out, and he's definitely a 'given' type of player. You know that he's going to be in there and he's going to win the majority of his duels. You know he's going to be pretty tidy with the ball and he's going to find people ... and he's actually got much better speed than people realize."
Alonso's first opportunity in America came with Chivas USA. He was given a tryout and offered a contract with the MLS club. But instead of signing as a developmental player, he decided to go east to South Carolina to play in the United Soccer Leagues First Division, where he'd get more of an opportunity. Alonso shined for the Battery in 2008 and was named first-team All-USL and the league's rookie of the year.
His play in last year's U.S. Open Cup also turned heads — the Battery made it to the final — and suddenly MLS teams were pursuing him. USL Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer and general manager Adrian Hanauer knew Alonso well from going against him, and when both began working for the MLS Sounders FC, Alonso was one of the discovery claims placed with the league.
"We played against Ozzie four times in the USL, and I've got to credit Brian Schmetzer, really," Hanauer said. "The first time we played Charleston he recognized Osvaldo as a quality player, and we just kept our eyes on him because at a certain point we knew we were going MLS."
No other MLS team obtained Alonso from Charleston in 2008, and Hanauer used his good relationship with Battery management to open up negotiations. Because Sounders FC was an expansion team and had the first right to match any offer from another team, Seattle got Alonso.
Sounders FC was the perfect fit. Alonso is what Hanauer calls "the major engine in the middle of the midfield for us."
Ask Alonso what he thinks about playing at the highest level in this country, and his answer is "Tranquilo." No translation needed, but "cool" is what he means.
"I'm really content here in Seattle," Alonso said. "This is my dream, and I want to bring wins to this city."
And his long-awaited family reunion?
"I think times will change and someday I'll be able to get back [to Cuba]," Alonso said. "Food, friends, I miss everything. But now that I'm here I have to go forward and live with my decision."
José Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
UPDATE - 8:54 PM
Sounders lose to another expansion team
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.