The scenario had played out several times already this year.
Osvaldo Alonso makes a clean theft of the ball with his tenacious defending, then finds himself in position to shoot. So often he has found himself in this position, putting goalkeepers in a panic as the rocket flies from his foot in their direction, having their prayers answered when Alonso’s shot misses the mark.
This time was different, though.
On Saturday at Qwest Field against the Vancouver Whitecaps he found what he was looking for with his first goal of the season on a left-footed blast through traffic after stealing an errant ball intended for Whitecaps midfielder, and Alonso’s former Seattle teammate, Peter Vagenas.
It’s the same vicinity of so many of the shots Alonso takes in each match. The result could have a lasting boost for Alonso as the Sounders near the midpoint of the 2011 MLS season.
“He gets a lot of shots from that place and it was good to see the ball go in. Hopefully that will give him confidence,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “Alonso works extremely hard and does great things all the time. Sometimes simplicity helps you get out of a certain situation, but certainly the goal was well taken.”
Alonso has been a great find for the Sounders since joining the club prior to the 2009 season. He had a standout season with the Charleston Battery in 2008 after defecting from his native Cuba during the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup, yet still flew under the MLS radar.
He quickly became a fan-favorite with his bulldog’s tenacity in the midfield and was also a popular teammate because of his standup reputation on the field.
However, he missed matches in both 2009 and 2010 with quad strains. With those health woes behind him, he has played every minute of the Sounders FC season that is now 16-games old.
The playing time hasn’t been a concern for Alonso, who grew up playing game-after-game, day-after-day in the streets of San Cristobal, Cuba.
“I’m very happy. My mindset is to play – that’s it,” Alonso said. “I feel good. I had a good preseason this year, so I hope in the regular season I’ll be healthy. That’s very important.”
The power of those words isn’t necessarily in the words themselves, but in the language they were spoken. Over the last two and a half years that he has been with the Sounders, Alonso has been learning more and more English. He holds conversations with his teammates and people who are close to the team.
Last week, however, was his first group interview session conducted completely in English, a sign of his growing comfort with the language and the culture that he has adopted.
“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 as well.”
The languages may be different, but that difference is becoming less and less of a barrier, particularly with players like Alonso who are fully engulfed in the community.
He spent time studying with a teacher with his teammates and admits that it has helped him in the locker room and on the pitch.
And while that element of his personality has progressed immensely since joining the Sounders, so has his on-field impact. Named team MVP and voted to the same award by the Emerald City Supporters, he has become an even more influential cog in the Sounders FC lineup this season.
While he is on pace to commit more fouls this season than in the previous two years, he has also developed a knack for creating turnovers in the midfield, making the middle of the pitch a place dribblers go to die.
“If he’s not the best, certainly I can’t think of another two or three who are better than him at recovering the ball in midfield. He’s a tremendous competitor,” Schmid said. “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 people can’t accomplish.”
Although Schmid would like to see him become a more influential passer, his ability to snuff out potential danger in the midfield is the stuff of legend.
He is also looking to become a more dangerous attacker. Already with more shots than his first two MLS seasons, he is getting about two shots per game, most commonly in an area that runs about 15 yards out from the top of the box.
With his confidence growing on and off the field in Seattle, those shots will undoubtedly continue finding the back of the net.