Moments after being drafted by Sounders FC, Cristian Roldan was asked which new teammate he was most looking forward to playing alongside. The answer immediately came to his mind.
“Ozzie is an inspiration to me,” Roldan said of Osvaldo Alonso, the club’s veteran central midfielder. “I think if I can get anywhere near his abilities, I will be in a good place. I can’t tell you how much of an influence he’s had on me as a player and as a person.”
One month later, Alonso is now the one looking on as Roldan plays in the middle of the midfield for the Rave Green. Alonso is temporarily sidelined with a groin injury that he recently had surgery to repair. The surgery was successful, but Head Coach Sigi Schmid also acknowledged that Alonso could miss the first few matches of the season.
Alonso is undoubtedly the heart and soul of the Seattle midfield. Though in his absence, the club has many young players that are capable of succeeding in the starting role.
Along with a promising rookie in Roldan, Sounders FC has two central midfielders who played important minutes in reserve roles last year: Micheal Azira and Andy Rose. The older of the two, Azira displayed his defensive skills in six starts and 14 total appearances during the regular season. Rose battled injuries throughout the year, but the 25-year-old still managed to score a pair of game-winning goals in the regular season and a brace in the U.S. Open Cup semifinal.
It’s a daunting task for anyone to fill in for Alonso, a perennial All-Star who has played every season of his professional career in Seattle. Last year, he had the highest passing percentage in MLS.
“You’re not going to replace an Alonso,” said forward Lamar Neagle, who has played alongside him for four seasons. “So it’s kind of a misfortune, but I definitely think we have guys coming up and a ton of center mids that have great talent and can fill in for him.”
Azira and Rose each started one of Sounders FC’s two preseason friendlies last week. They will likely see more game action in the next couple of weeks, as the club is set to play four friendlies at the Desert Diamond Cup in Tucson, Arizona. Schmid said that Brad Evans, who has been used as a centerback during the preseason, is an additional candidate to play central midfield while Alonso is sidelined.
No matter whom it is that gets the starting nod in March, his job will be made easier by playing next to veteran Gonzalo Pineda. A 32-year-old who enters his second year with the club, Pineda has played on some of soccer’s biggest stages, including the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
Pineda’s teammates say he has been a positive influence on them during the preseason.
“He’s a fantastic player. You don’t play for the Mexican National Team unless you have something special,” Rose said. “He’s great with me. I think he’s going to go on and be a great coach, just because he’s always talking to the youngsters and giving them little words of advice. He’s a great guy to learn from.”
Roldan added: “Gonzalo Pineda has helped me a lot. A ton, actually. He’s influenced me by the way he plays. And that’s always a good thing, because he’s been a World Cup midfielder.”