Osvaldo Alonso is “low key” and “quiet.”
He is a “great guy” that people levitate towards.
That’s how teammates describe the Sounders FC’s 24-year-old Cuban midfielder.
On the field, though? Now, that’s a different story.
“He’s low key, but in the game it’s a completely different animal. He’ll tear your leg off if he has to,” midfield running mate Brad Evans said. “I’m glad he’s on my team.”
Alonso uses a different word – garra – a Spanish word which literally translates to “the claw of an animal,” but is meant to describe something that is sharp or fierce.
“I have always focused on giving it my best, playing with strength and ‘garra,’ always maintaining that spirit of fierceness in order to win,” he said through a translator. “That's my style of play, with strength and garra.”
He tallied just one goal and three assists in his first MLS season, yet few midfielders made as much of an impact as Alonso, even without racking up the eye-catching statistics. He has quickly established a reputation as a bulldog in the Seattle midfield. Or pitbull. Or terrier. Again, it depends on who you ask. Any way you slice it, his play catches the eye of Sounders FC supporters and analysts alike.
“Ozzie is a hard-working player. He does a tremendous defensive job in there,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid. “He’s a little terrier that is always scrapping and fighting and battling for his team. I think fans can identify with that. He’s the guy going to work every day – working on the assembly line.”
He credits his father for instilling that workmanlike mentality, and it’s that mentality that has taken him far from his home of San Cristobal, Cuba.
In 2007, Alonso was in Texas with the Cuban National Team playing in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. It was here where he defected, separating himself from the rest of his team while at a Houston department store by walking out the front door. On the other side, he continued a long path to Major League Soccer, trying to prove that Cubans can play more than just baseball.
“They say that Cubans don't play much soccer,” Alonso said. “That's (means) nothing (to me). I hope to show those people and keep playing how I'm playing.”
From Houston, he boarded a bus bound for Miami, where he met up with his wife. Seeking a pro soccer opportunity, he then boarded another bus for Los Angeles and tried out with Chivas USA. When the two sides could not reach a suitable contract, he hopped back on the bus and sought another opportunity across the country in South Carolina.
Since then, he has wreaked havoc for opposing teams in the Sounders FC midfield.
“I think we can handle anybody with five guys,” Evans said. “We can take on six or seven and be confident that they are probably not going to break us down. It definitely gives the attackers more freedom to get forward. You can’t ask for anything more.”
In the preseason, he has even added more offensive punch to his game, shifting that garra further up the field. That kind of move bore fruit last season for his only goal against DC United in mid-June. And now, each game over the last two months he has managed a couple of shots from 18-25 yards out that challenge the goalkeeper and remind the opposition that he can be more than just a stopper in the midfield.
However, at the heart of Alonso will always be the killer instinct on the defensive side.
“You have to have that type of mentality that ‘this is my domain and I’m not going to let anyone come in and disturb it,’” said Tyrone Marshall, the Sounders FC defender who has a front row seat for many of Alonso’s greatest feats. “It may mean grabbing a shirt or kicking a few people, but he does his job well. He exemplifies that position.”
Evans description cuts just short that of Marshall’s. While Evans, who is paired with Alonso in the central midfield, agrees that his Cuban counterpart embodies all the talents of a defensive midfielder, Evans notes that the one thing he lacks is the intimidating size of most at his position.
“When you think of defensive midfielders you think of someone who is larger in stature. He doesn’t have that size, but he has the tenacity,” said Evans. “I know he’s going to make the play or that last-ditch effort to cut out passes. He may not be standard, but he definitely has that tenacity.”
Call it tenacity. Call it determination. We’ll just call it garra.