On Tuesday, the Sounders announced that Alonso won't be going anywhere anytime soon, having signed a multi-year deal that makes the tenacious midfielder a designated player, meaning only a portion of his contract will count towards Seattle's salary cap.
Alonso long has been considered one of the Sounders' best players since joining the team for their inaugural season in MLS; now he'll be paid like it.
Alonso, who has been voted team MVP by his teammates in each of the past four seasons, will be one of three designated players on the Sounders roster along with midfielder Clint Dempsey, who was signed last summer, and forward Obafemi Martins, who was signed at the start of the 2013 season. Per MLS policy, details of the deal were not announced, but you can bet Alonso's DP status means he is getting a significant raise from the $210,000 he made in 2013. He knows that raise will come with added pressure to perform.
"This contract is different," Alonso was quoted as saying in a team-provided press release. "I have a lot of responsibility on my shoulders now. I have to keep going and play my game and play the best for the team. Signing this contract is going to be a good challenge for me."
Alonso, 28, has been with Seattle since its inaugural season in Major League Soccer, and quickly established himself as one of the team's key players. Based on Alonso's play -- he is a three-time All-Star and is widely considered one of the league's best defensive midfielders -- most believed it was only a matter of time before he became a DP or left MLS for a league that could pay him more.
Alonso, who started 26 regular-season games and played 2,179 minutes this past season, is the Sounders' career leader in games played (139), starts (135) and minutes played (11,839). He is second in shots taken (180) and postseason goals scored (2), is tied for fifth in assists (12) and tied for 10th for goals scored (6).
"Ozzie is the ultimate competitor who has given everything to Sounders FC," Sounders general manager/minority owner Adrian Hanauer said in a press release. "His passion for the game of soccer and his drive to be the best are validated by being named team MVP four-consecutive seasons by his teammates. Ozzie is a key building block for our club and we are happy to sign him to a long-term contract extension."
Sounders coach Sigi Schmid also praised Alonso in the press release, calling him "the model of consistency for us in central midfield. His on-field leadership and tenacious play make him one of the top holding midfielders in the league."
Alonso defected from Cuba in 2007 while in Houston with his country's national team for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. He became a U.S. citizen in 2012.
He and the U.S. national team have expressed mutual interest, but because Alonso played for Cuba and left voluntarily, soccer's international governing body, FIFA, would have to grant an exemption allowing him to change national team allegiances. So far that hasn't happened. But while his international career remains in limbo, Alonso now knows his future in Seattle is secure.
"I look back on six years and I can't imagine this has happened to me -- playing professionally and being a citizen in the United States," Alonso said. "For me, it's unbelievable. Playing here, being in Seattle with the fans. When I look back to when I defected and to be playing right now, it's amazing for me. I never imagined it would be like it is now."
The contract and designated player status signal that Alonso is a part of Seattle's long-term plans. It also means the status of two other high-profile Sounders is up in the air -- midfielder Mauro Rosales and forward Eddie Johnson, the team's leading scorer with 23 goals during the past two seasons.
Rosales, a DP for the past two seasons, would now have to be willing to take a pay-cut if he wants to stay in Seattle. Johnson has made it no secret that he wants a raise, something that Hanauer concedes is deserved, but will that happen now? The Sounders could still pay Johnson more than the $156,333 he made in 2013, but with no DP slot open, they can't pay Johnson what he likely believes he deserves.
Seattle's decision to reward Alonso this offseason, along with a Sports Illustrated report that the Sounders are shopping Eddie Johnson, could mean Seattle has decided to allocate its resources elsewhere despite Johnson's productivity his two seasons with the Sounders and the U.S. national team.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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