You can see it in a player’s eyes.
In that moment when the ball skips into the middle of the pitch. They can sense that their next move needs to be perfect, and even then, they may still lost possession. They’ve stumbled right into the hornet’s nest. The lion’s den. The bear’s cave.
Throughout the history of Major League Soccer, there have always been players like Osvaldo Alonso.
In the heyday of DC United, Richie Williams patrolled the middle of the field and helped them to three MLS Cup titles from 1996-1999. The same was the case with Ronnie Ekelund in San Jose from 2001-2004 when the Earthquakes won two MLS Cups.
“Usually when you look at most teams, you can find a defensive midfielder that can play very well and keep possession for his team,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “Whether it’s Andrea Pirlo in Italy, Bastian Schweinsteiger in Germany or Xavi who sometimes plays higher – those are guys that are able to hold the ball, distribute the ball and start the team off well.”
Even in today’s MLS there are players that act as the motor in the midfield.
However, Alonso does it in a unique way that has made him one of the most dominant players in the league. Few in MLS are better at their position than the player the Sounders FC has called their MVP for the last two seasons and even garnered league MVP consideration in 2012 when he led the league by winning possession with 133 tackles, 38 more than the next highest in the league, according to the league’s statistics provider, Opta. He even added three goals and three assists to his stunning tackling figures for career highs in 2012.
“What distinguishes him in this league is his ability to recover the ball. A lot of guys can pick up mistakes that the opponent makes,” Schmid said. “He forces errors out of the opponents and he’s almost cagey about it. You think he’s not marking, then the ball gets played and he’s right there.”
While onlookers marvel at his control over his domain in the midfield, he humbly wears the crown placed on him by those that have grown to appreciate his exploits since he quietly joined the Sounders FC in 2009.
When asked of his successes in MLS and the attention it brings, he shrugs, “I just do the best I can to help the team.”
Schmid is much more willing to heap praise on the 2012 MLS All-Star.
“He’s the best tackling midfielder in the league – I think that’s borne out statistically. As a result in our game, he does a lot of things for us that are important for our team to do well,” Schmid said. “He covers a lot of ground. He’s got great speed. He recovers the ball well. He’s good with the ball. So he’s a very important player on our team.”
If you don’t believe Schmid, just ask any Sounders FC opponent after they’ve crossed the middle of the field. Well, if they’re not too busy defending after another tackle from Osvaldo Alonso.