By John Boyle Herald Columnist
TUKWILA — Five years ago, Osvaldo Alonso left behind his life, his country, his family and his friends hoping for a better life in America.
Today, for the first time since defecting from Cuba in the summer of 2007, Alonso will celebrate this country’s Independence Day as a U.S. citizen. This is a special day for Alonso, who gained his citizenship last month, but also a somewhat bittersweet one because he won’t be joining his Sounders teammates against Real Salt Lake tonight, the result of the one-game suspension he must serve having accumulating five yellow cards this season.
But even if Alonso’s first Fourth of July as a U.S. citizen won’t be perfect, he is grateful for where life has taken him in the past five years. In June of 2007, Alonso was with the Cuban national team in Houston for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. While the team was on a shopping outing to Wal-Mart, Alonso separated himself from the group, walked out the front door and towards a new life.
“It was tough,” Alonso said. “I was leaving family and friends behind, it was hard for me. I came to the U.S. to play soccer, to follow my dream of playing professional soccer. I’m very proud of myself for what I’ve done in these four years.”
Alonso went to Miami, where he reunited with then girlfriend and now wife, Liang Perez, who had left Cuba a few years earlier. He played for the Charleston Battery in 2008, then joined the expansion Sounders in 2009 and quickly became one of the best defensive midfielders not just on the team, but in Major League Soccer.
Not only has Alonso established himself as a professional athlete in America, he has found the life he was hoping for when he left Cuba behind. He and Perez are now married, have a son, Dennis, and now that he is a U.S. Citizen, Alonso plans to bring his mother and sister to America from Cuba. Alonso’s story is the American Dream at its best.
“My dream was, come to the United States to improve my life,” Alonso said. “I did it, so I’m very happy. It’s great, because America is my country. Now I have the opportunity to bring my family here. It means a lot.”
Alonso’s story is also a long way from finished. At 26, Alonso is just starting to scratch the surface of what he can be as a player. In each of the past two seasons, he was named the Sounders most valuable player even as other players such as Fredy Montero and Kasey Keller gained more national recognition. The league took notice last season and Alonso was named to his first MLS All-Star team.
Already Alonso is among the very best in the league at re-gaining possession for his team and killing opposing team’s attacks. As his passing and offensive game improves — Alonso always has had a lethal long-range shot — he could develop into one of the truly elite players in American soccer.
The eventual next step for Alonso could be playing in higher-level league in another country. He and Sounders teammate Steve Zakuani spent time training with English Premier League club Everton prior to the 2011 MLS season. Another goal, now that he is a citizen, is playing on the U.S. National Team.
Citizenship hardly guarantees Alonso that opportunity, however. For starters, he would have to convince U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann that he is good enough to merit a roster spot, and secondly, Alonso would need FIFA, international soccer’s governing body, to allow it.
Normally, a player who has represented one country in international competition, such as the CONCACAF Gold Cup, would not be allowed to play for another country. Alonso’s hope, however, is that FIFA will make an exception because as a defector, he is no longer allowed to play for Cuba.
“I don’t know yet,” he said. “If the opportunity comes, it’s something I want to do.”
For now, however, those future goals can wait. Alonso is going to enjoy this Independence Day, even if can’t join his team on the field. After all, he has accomplished so much since walking away from his old life five year ago, and while he won’t be with his teammates tonight, he will be at home with his family, appreciating a new life in the country he can now officially call home.
“Everyone who comes to the United States, it’s the dream,” he said. “For me, it’s a dream come true to be a U.S. citizen.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.