When he looks back on the last six years of his life, it plays out like a movie for Osvaldo Alonso.
That story took a big turn on Tuesday when Sounders FC announced that the three-time All-Star and four-time team MVP would continue in Rave Green for a long time, signing Alonso to a contract extension that makes him a Designated Player.
After defecting from Cuba in 2007 with no immediate prospects for his life, let alone his soccer career, he can hardly fathom where soccer has taken him.
“I look back on six years and I can’t imagine this has happened to me – playing professionally and being a citizen in the United States. For me, it’s unbelievable,” Alonso said this week. “Playing here, being in Seattle with the fans. When I look back to when I defected and to be playing right now, it’s amazing for me. I never imagined it would be like it is now.”
The contract extension holds a lot of meaning for Alonso. The 28-year-old points to the future of his wife and two children as his primary motivation for him on the field and securing that future means the world to him.
“I grew up with nothing in Cuba. Now, I signed a big contract and I know my family is going to be ok,” he said.
From the day he walked out of a Wal-Mart in Houston, Texas, defecting from his home country while playing in the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup, it has been a love story. The first thing he did then was seek out Liang Perez in Miami. Now married with two children, his wife was the first person he called when his future changed again after he signed his contract extension.
He may eat and drink soccer, but he lives for her.
“She’s my right hand. She always supports and she’s always been there through good things and bad things,” Alonso said. “Life is tough. She’s always been with me, gives me advice and follows me. It doesn’t matter how I’m playing. She always supports me.”
Progressively, his play as Sounders FC’s defensive midfielder drew praise around the league, reaching a crescendo in 2012 and he followed that banner year in impressive fashion in 2013.
In 2012, his fourth season with Sounders FC, he earned MLS Best XI honors as he helped Seattle to its best finish in club history, reaching the Western Conference Championships. The 2013 season saw him earn his third-straight All-Star honor and he helped lead Sounders FC to the first-ever series victory by an MLS squad over a Mexican opponent in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League with a 3-2 series win over Tigres UANL.
Alonso is known for his tenacious play on the defensive side of the ball. When opponents dribble or pass through the Seattle midfield, the defensive wizard makes sure it’s never an easy task. The 2013 season also showed his ability to keep the ball for his own team, as he led MLS in passing efficiency, completing 88.58 percent of his passes.
That is one prominent way that his game has improved since he came to MLS as a little-known player in a position that remains largely out of the spotlight.
“I think I play with a little more confidence. You see more of the game and you can play with your teammates,” he said. “When you play five years with the team, you know how people play and you try to get better every day.”
As a Designated Player, Alonso takes on more responsibility, but is not saddled by any extra burden those obligations hold.
“This contract is different. I have a lot of responsibility on my shoulders now. Signing this contract is going to be a good challenge for me,” he said. “It’s the same game and the same pressure. I play hard, play with energy and give everything I have. The only thing that changes is the contract.”
In five years, nobody has started more matches or played more minutes than the ubiquitous Alonso. In 135 starts, his 12 assists rank tied for fifth on the club’s all-time list and his six goals rank tied for 10th.
He has also been a man of all competitions.
He ranks first in club history with 20 career appearances in CONCACAF Champions League and is third on the club’s all-time list with five goals in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in 12 matches with Seattle. He has the distinction of reaching the Open Cup final in five straight years, losing in 2008 with the Battery and 2012 with Sounders FC and winning three consecutive titles from 2009-2011 with Seattle, earning the U.S. Open Cup Player of the Tournament honors in 2012. He also added two goals in a club-high 13 MLS Cup Playoffs matches.
All of those past successes have gotten him where he is now, but it is the future that drives Alonso as Seattle still strives for its first MLS Cup.
“We have to look forward. We’ve had good times and bad times but we have to look forward,” he said. “There’s a new season coming up. We won three Open Cups in a row … We have to win MLS Cup. It’s the only thing we need to get for the fans and for us. We have to play hard to get the trophy. If we don’t get the trophy, the year is not good. We have to focus from Day One to win the MLS Cup.”