They are simultaneously the most loved and the most hated players on their respective teams.
The role of holding midfielder isn’t one that garners attention of the media – after all, goals make better highlight reels than tackles.
In Seattle and Salt Lake, though, the fans have truly grown to appreciate the value of the position as Osvaldo Alonso and Kyle Beckerman have mastered the ability to strike fear into the hearts of opposing midfielders who cross the middle of the field.
And this year, the two are arguably playing their best soccer.
Alonso, 25, has three goals and three assists, but has also consistently been light years ahead of the next highest tackler in the league. Most importantly he has been healthy all season, missing only one match all season due to yellow card accumulation.
In his three years in MLS, he has quickly become a fan favorite in Seattle for his voracious appetite for dispossessing his opponents on any blade of grass on the field. His willingness to stand toe-to-toe with any competitor in defense of his teammates has also drawn the backing of the whole team.
The tenacity that makes him loved by fans in Seattle and appreciated by the player-turned-pundit breed of analyst also makes him reviled by opposing fans.
“He’s a very important player,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “He’s the kind of player that you build a team around.”
In Beckerman, Real Salt Lake has done just that, with head coach Jason Kreis making him the team’s captain during his first full season with the club in 2008.
Beckerman, 29, has 12 years of MLS experience, but has become a star in Kreis’ diamond midfield. This year, he has three goals and a career-high nine assists. To Kreis, though, he hasn’t needed the statistical backing to show his value on the team, and neither has Alonso.
“Two very integral players for their team. Two guys that lead the team by their actions. Two guys that cover an extraordinary amount of ground and win balls for their team and are pretty clean possession players,” said Kreis, who scored 108 career goals in MLS with the Dallas Burn and RSL.
“They are two of the best, if not the two best, holding midfielders in the league.”
“They are two of the better players in our league at that position and that position doesn’t often get the glory or the attention, but it’s also a position that dictates a lot of the tempo of the game,” said the all-time winningest coach in MLS.
Free from the glory of goals or stellar, game-changing saves. Alonso and Beckerman are more than content to remain in the shadows. On Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium and Wednesday at CenturyLink Field, though, it will be hard for either to hide as they both take center-stage in the Western Conference semifinal matchup.
Schmid said the two holding midfielders will be something to behold.
“Those guys are two outstanding players and for the fans it should be a treat to watch them.”