There is a fine line between tenacious defending and recklessness on the pitch.
Osvaldo Alonso has become an expert at maintaining his dogged edge without falling into the realm of carelessness.
He has been the league’s top tackler and midfield ball-hawk in the league since joining Sounders FC in 2009 and has never seen a red card while playing for Seattle.
Now, Sounders FC is after an historic fourth straight US Open Cup title and their early-round chances may have been improved by the MLS Disciplinary Committee.
After the Sounders FC’s 2-0 loss to the Columbus Crew on May 23, they were dealt a second blow when Alonso was handed a two-game suspension by the Disciplinary Committee for an overly aggressive tackle late in the match.
“I just play hard to the ball. In that moment, I lost my mind and made the tackle too hard,” Alonso said. “MLS saw the video and I’m suspended two games. It’s just the game. I try to play hard every time I go to the field.”
Although the suspension knocked Alonso out of a 1-1 draw with Chivas USA and will keep him out of Seattle’s meeting with the Montreal Impact on June 16, it freed the defensive guru to play in Seattle’s first two US Open Cup matches without concern of over-extending the hard-working midfielder.
“Ozzie is an important player to our team, so it’s great to have him out there for that. He’s had great Open Cup experiences, so that’s good as well,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said.
That Open Cup experience has included four straight appearances in the final – the last three with Seattle and the 2008 final with the Charleston Battery of the USL, who fell to DC United in Alonso’s only ever loss in the tournament.
Schmid noted on Sunday that Alonso would not likely have played in Seattle’s 5-1 win over the Atlanta Silverbacks in the third round of the Open Cup if he hadn’t missed the game against Chivas USA and Alonso was up to his normal standard in the middle of the field, disrupting play for Atlanta while also contributing a goal himself.
On the surface, Alonso’s impact on the match may near on unnecessary, as the Sounders never appeared challenged by the second division Silverbacks. However, with eight MLS teams bowing out to lower division opponents in the third round last week, no risks can be taken by the Sounders if they wish to become the first team in the 99-year history of the tournament to win four straight titles.
“Ozzie’s a leader by example. He competes every time and wants his team to win,” Schmid said. “When he steps on the field for you in the Open Cup it’s a boost to our team because he’s a competitor.”
The chance at history isn’t lost on Alonso, but it also doesn’t necessarily change his approach to the match. Filled with perpetual energy, Alonso tirelessly works for his team in each match he plays, regardless of the stakes involved.
Adding a trophy to the end of the path only gives him a goal to reach.
In front of Alonso and the Sounders this week is Cal FC, a US Adult Soccer Association team that ousted the Portland Timbers 1-0 last week to become the first ever USASA club to beat an MLS side in the Open Cup.
Alonso, for one, looks forward to the challenge.
“We are the champions. We have the opportunity to play against Cal and they come here with a lot of energy to play us,” he said. “We have to try to do our best to win the game. This year, it would be a dream come true to make another final.”
Kickoff against Cal FC is slated for 7 pm at Starfire Stadium. The match will be broadcast live on Fox Soccer and online at SoundersFC.com. Limited tickets are still available at the CenturyLink Field box office, by calling 1-800-745-3000 or visiting www.ticketmaster.com.