The man standing between the Seattle Sounders and their fourth trip to MLS Cup in five years is ironically the one who helped them reach their first two.
Former Sounders captain and club legend Osvaldo Alonso returns to Seattle for Monday night’s Western Conference Final (6:30 p.m. PT; FS1, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM). It will be his second appearance in Seattle since joining Minnesota United ahead of the 2019 MLS season.
“He’s going to be up for the game,” Sounders Head Coach Brian Schmetzer said of Alonso. “He knows what it takes to win in the playoffs, but he’s just one player. It’s reflected in their entire team.”
The player tasked with slowing down Minnesota’s in-form attack will be Sounders offseason acquisition João Paulo, the Brazilian dynamo who coincidentally wears the iconic Rave Green No. 6 shirt that Alonso donned for a decade. João Paulo admitted he didn’t know much of his predecessor prior to joining MLS, but he’s seen film of Alonso play and is impressed.
“I’ve noticed he’s a great player,” João Paulo said of Alonso. “[He is] a great athlete and definitely built a great history in the club. He’s a player with a lot of experience and shows leadership on the pitch. Not to mention the quality of course.”
Alonso, 35, battled injuries this season, appearing in just 10 regular season matches. He missed nine of the last 12 games, starting and going 90 minutes just once. But after coming on for a short substitute appearance in the Loons’ Round One win over the Colorado Rapids, he started and went 72 minutes in the conference semifinals win over Sporting Kansas City, reminding everyone of his class on both sides of the ball.
Alonso is on the Sounders’ Mount Rushmore and widely considered MLS’ best defensive midfielder ever. The Cuban bruiser is Seattle’ all-time franchise leader in matches and minutes played, and he helped the club win four U.S. Open Cup titles, the 2014 Supporters’ Shield and 2016 MLS Cup.
“You don’t give a club what he gave for 10 years and it not be special,” said Minnesota United Head Coach Adrian Heath. “He’s arguably the biggest player in that club’s history. You know, for 10 years on the trot, they made the playoffs and he was in the fulcrum of all of that. So we know it will be a big night for him, but, knowing Ozzie the way we do and how competitive he is, there will be no sentiment. Trust me. He’ll be wanting to put one over his former teammates.”
Alonso hoists the Sounders’ first MLS Cup title in 2016
Schmetzer knows and expects this. Despite maintaining a great relationship with Alonso since he departed, Schmetzer opted not to reach out to Alonso ahead of the meeting, pragmatically claiming he didn’t think it would be appropriate. Schmetzer wants Alonso to focus on his side, and Schmetzer wants to focus on his.
“They’ve been showing it for years, they’re a great team,” Alonso said of the Sounders. “We got Seattle, but we have to think about us. We’re a great team too and we can go there and find the result to get to MLS Cup.”
The main task for Alonso & Co. will be shutting down his former teammates Nicolás Lodeiro, Raúl Ruidíaz and Jordan Morris, all three of whom were selected to MLS Best XI this year. Lodeiro, who succeeded Alonso as club captain, knows a little thing or two about winning in the playoffs as well, guiding Seattle to the 2019 MLS Cup title. The Loons know Alonso will have to be at the top of his game, or it could be a long evening for them at Lumen Field.
“We know that in a split second Lodeiro can turn and pick a pass,” said Heath. “We’ve just got to be really, really concentrated for the full 90 minutes because the minute you drop your guard for a second, they normally punish you.”