Defending the realm

  • By John Boyle Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, June 8, 2011 12:01am
  • Sports

TUKWILA — Pay attention, or you just might miss out on what makes Osvaldo Alonso so good.

The Sounders FC midfielder doesn’t score many goals, or even set them up, nor does he make a habit of beating defenders with dazzling moves, but keep a close eye on Alonso and you’ll see why he is regarded as one of the best defensive midfielders in Major League Soccer.

More than in goals or assists, Alonso’s impact is measured in the scoring chances that never develop for opposing teams. A defensive central midfielder, the 25-year-old Alonso is as good as anyone in the league at regaining possession for his team before the opposition can mount an attack.

“Certainly I can’t think of another two or three who are better than him at recovering the ball in midfield,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “He’s a tremendous competitor. He’s a tremendous finder of the ball when you’ve lost the ball. He knows how to close people down. He’s a good tackler, the kind of guy who can tackle without committing fouls. He allows us to be able to recover the ball in the midfield area that a lot of player can’t accomplish. He’s a very important part of our team.”

But while Alonso’s value may sometimes be hard to spot, the good news for soccer fans is that they have plenty of chances to do so. Fifteen games into the season, Alonso has played every minute of every game, a feat only matched on the team by goalkeeper Kasey Keller.

“I play like 15 games in a row, so I am very happy,” Alonso said. “I am healthy for playing many, many, many more games.”

So does Alonso need a break anytime soon?

“No, no,” he said. “My mind is play, play. That’s it. I want to continue to play.”

It’s worth noting that Alonso’s answers were in English, a first for the Cuban who previously used a translator to do interviews with English-speaking media. Alonso, who defected from Cuba in 2007 while in Houston with his national team, has a better command of English than many of the other Spanish-speaking members of the team, making him even more valuable to Schmid.

“I’ve used Ozzie a lot more of late to translate to somebody, to translate to (Alvaro Fernandez), to translate to (Miguel) Montano — the guys whose English is maybe a little bit behind,” Schmid said. “I think that’s helped him as well with his English.”

Of course Alonso’s ability to speak a second-language is far less important than his ability to help his team maintain possession of the ball. And if his value isn’t always readily apparent at first glance, a prolonged absence can show just how much Alonso means to the team.

Last season, the usually durable Alonso suffered a quadriceps strain in the first half of a loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy. He missed nearly two months of action and while he was out Seattle went 2-6. After Alonso returned, the Sounders turned into the hottest team in the league, finishing with a 10-2-3 record to make the playoffs for a second-straight year. That the turnaround coincided with Alonso’s return is hardly a coincidence, and as a result he was named the team’s MVP for the 2010 season.

“Ozzie’s a great young player, if he continues to grow, sky’s the limit,” Keller said. “… He’s been a big, big part of our success.”

New faces

Seattle’s reserves took on Vancouver Tuesday night, and in addition to the regular Sounders FC players, there were a pair of unsigned players in uniform: Irish forward Cillian Sheridan and Myron Samuel from St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Both Sheridan, a 22-year-old who played for Scottish club Celtic from 2006-2010, and Samuel, an 18-year-old midfielder, are on trial with Sounders FC.

Herald Writer John Boyle:

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