In 1974 the Sounders organization became forever linked to Everton FC in England when they signed Jimmy Gabriel as a player/assistant coach.
Gabriel starred for Everton from 1960-1967, making 256 appearances for the Toffees as a defensive midfielder. In Seattle he made 53 appearances from 1974-1979 and has become a mainstay in the soccer community mainly because of his work with the Sounders and the University of Washington.
This off-season, that tie continued as Osvaldo Alonso and Steve Zakuani each traveled to Liverpool, England, to train with Everton. Although they trained separately, they both earned high marks and came to Sounders FC training camp itching to show what they’d learned with the Premier League club.
Alonso went to the club in an arrangement set up by Seattle and was thrilled at the opportunity to rub elbows with the likes of Steven Pienaar, Louis Saha and Mikel Arteta.
“They were nice guys,” Alonso said. “They talked to me just like I was one of the guys.”
The primary lesson he learned with Everton was that it takes consistent hard work if you want to play with one of the top clubs in the world.
Already known for his hustle in matches and in training, Alonso got a look at how important that consistency is on the big stage.
Getting the extra work in the off-season also had an added benefit for Alonso, who has struggled with quad injuries each of the last two seasons on his way to two goals and six assists over 50 regular season matches for Seattle.
“They have a chance to see what it’s like in a Premier League environment where they train. It’s different when these teams come over here because they are a bit on holiday and taking a break,” Sounders FC technical director Chris Henderson said. “When you go over there you get to see what their facilities are like and what the coach is like under pressure. It’s great exposure for the players, and at the same time it’s great to see what it’s like in one of the top leagues in the world.”
The Sounders are always open to their players training overseas and when they can arrange it with a club like Everton it provides even more incentive for the Sounders as the players raved about the work they got with the club.
When news broke of the two training overseas, though, many Sounders FC fans were understandably concerned that it signaled the ends of each player’s respective Sounders career. Everton would see the quality in Zakuani or Alonso, they argued, and would be tempted to swoop them away from Seattle with an opportunity to play in the Premiership.
However, both were very committed to playing in Seattle.
“For now, I only think about playing in Seattle,” Alonso said. “I will play well and give my best for the Seattle Sounders. That’s all I can do right now.”
Henderson sees the duo’s abilities as only a positive too.
“I think they’re both pretty close to that level so they see that they’re not that far off,” Henderson said. “I think we’ll see the benefit of it. They are both looking great in training.”
Alonso and the Sounders continue training this week in Casa Grande, Arizona. They will play three matches next week before returning to Seattle.