Wednesday night’s game against Sporting Kansas City will be a special one for Sounders FC midfielder Osvaldo Alonso.
It is not only because it will mark his first MLS match in nearly a month after serving out a two-game suspension from the league’s Disciplinary Committee for an aggressive tackle against the Columbus Crew on May 23.
This match in particular will be significant because when Alonso stands with his teammates in the starting lineup on the pitch at CenturyLink Field and listens to the over 39,000 in attendance sing The Star Spangled Banner, it will be the first time he will have that experience as a United States citizen.
“It will be different,” he smiled, suddenly realizing himself the emotion of the moment. “It’s my new country. I’m an American and when I hear the national anthem, it’s going to be a good day for me.”
It has been five years since Alonso defected from Cuba, giving him the opportunity to apply for his citizenship. Last Thursday, he passed the test, now he’s an American citizen.
After learning that he passed the test, he jumped into his wife’s arms, herself a Cuban who earned US citizenship last year.
He has come a long way since defecting from Cuba in 2007. On that hot summer day in Houston, where he was playing with the Cuban National Team in the CONCACAF Gold Cup and courageously darted out of Walmart store while on a day-trip with his team.
That started a long process that saw him travel by bus to Florida, where he met with a friend who helped him try to find the opportunity to play professionally in America.
That included visits to two MLS clubs before he finally landed with the Charleston Battery in the USL, where he would play the 2008 season. He then signed with Sounders FC in 2009 and has become one of the most feared and respected defensive midfielders in Major League Soccer.
He had no way of knowing on the day that he made the decision to defect that his life would turn out the way it did, but he is certainly pleased with the results of a long thought-out decision.
“I’m very happy for that decision I made,” Alonso said. “It was very tough leaving my family and friends in Cuba, but I had to look forward and whatever happened, that was my decision.”
As a US citizen, he can now bring his family to come visit from Cuba. He anticipates that his mother and sister will come very soon to see him for the first time in five years, but he is not as certain about his father.
“That’s my next challenge, to bring my mom and my sister,” Alonso said. “I don’t know if my dad wants to come, but in the future, if he says yes, then he can come.”
Kickoff for Wednesday’s match is scheduled for 7 pm Pacific, with television coverage on KONG 6/16 and the radio broadcast on 97.3 KIRO FM.