It’s been a long time since Osvaldo Alonso ventured into the unknown, leaving his life behind him when he walked out of a Houston department store while on a team getaway while with the Cuban National Team preparing for a CONCACAF Gold Cup match with Honduras.
Nearly four years.
Since then, he has been married, had a child and become one of the most rock steady players in Major League Soccer.
One thing he hasn’t done since then is see his family.
At least, until last week.
Last Thursday, Alonso’s paternal grandparents landed in Seattle for their first visit to the USA and their first chance to see him play professionally in America.
It was also the first time they saw their great-grandson, Dennis.
“When I made the decision (to defect), I came out not knowing if I was ever going to see them again,” Alonso said. “I’m really happy that they’re here with me.”
The process started several months ago, with the 72-year-old Diosdado Alonso Morales and his wife, 70-year-old Irene Pardo Almora, applying for visas at the US Embassy in Cuba. Once Cubans reach the age of 65 and retire, they are allowed to freely leave the country when they receive their visas.
Alonso beamed with pride while talking about his grandfather’s conversations with him about the 1-1 draw with the Portland Timbers on Saturday night at Qwest Field. While Alonso takes his advice seriously and enjoys hearing feedback from a knowledgeable source, the excitement is seeded much more in the conversation itself.
When he left Cuba in his rearview mirror in 2007, he didn’t know if he would ever share that face-to-face conversation again.
“It’s difficult, especially in my case, not knowing whether I would be able to see them or not,” he said. “To have them here, I’m really happy to have them at my side.”
Since then, he played one season with the Charleston Battery in the USL, leading them to the US Open Cup final where they fell to DC United. He then signed with the Sounders FC, where he was the club’s MVP in 2010. He has now played 61 MLS matches and has grown into cult-hero status while also catching the attention of the mainstream for his rugged effort.
Some of that can likely be traced to his grandparents, who often took care of him as a kid.
“They are just like my parents,” he said.
They can stay with him until October, when their visas expire.