Osvaldo Alonso’s path to professional soccer in the United States is well known in Seattle and the larger world of Major League Soccer, but that doesn’t mean it would lose its luster if it’s told again here, even briefly.
Born in 1985 in San Cristobal, Cuba, Alonso was a rising soccer star in a nation full of athletes who played under the shadow of Fidel Castro and the ruling Communist Party. That meant a wealth of restrictions and government impositions in daily life, but most distressing for the nation’s elite athletes – soccer players, baseball players and boxers, most prominently – was the knowledge that if they wanted something better outside of their home country, defection was the only option.
Alonso made up his mind in early 2007, six months before Cuba participated in the CONCACAF Gold Cup in the United States. When the Cuban team reached Houston, the players and coaches took a fateful trip to a local Wal-Mart where, unbeknownst to everyone from team security personnel to his closest family members back in Cuba, Alonso disappeared.
His reemergence and subsequent rise to prominence is the stuff of legend in both San Cristobal and Seattle. Alonso eventually landed with the Charleston Battery of the USL and then with the Sounders ahead of their 2009 MLS debut. He’s since appeared in more than 200 games across all competitions for the club, playing a vital part in the team’s four U.S. Open Cup titles and six straight MLS postseason appearances. He’s made Seattle his home with his wife and children, and he became a U.S. citizen in 2012.
A host of other Cuban soccer players have followed that path in the eight years since Alonso defected, almost with striking regularity. Eight players have defected in 2015 alone – four senior players during the CONCACAF Gold Cup this summer, and another four from the Under-23 team earlier this month ahead of CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying – and while they have yet to reach the heights Alonso has since his arrival, they all share a universal thread of desperation and determination.
The other common denominator? Strained family connections, or even severed ties to their loved ones back in Cuba. Alonso, for one, has seen his family only sparingly since he left – his paternal grandparents visited for five months in 2011 – and he’s been largely limited to sporadic conversations over the phone to family back home. Watching his games over the internet in Cuba has been nearly impossible, and he’s never returned home to his see his father, Osvaldo Sr., a former soccer player himself and Alonso’s boyhood hero.
Roughly two weeks ago, however, Alonso’s father came to see him. With U.S.-Cuban relations on the mend since the two nations restored diplomatic ties in December, Osvaldo Sr. flew to Seattle in late September and has been a regular presence by his son’s side ever since. He is staying with Alonso in the Seattle area and drives with him to training every day, socializing in the locker room and watching quietly from the sideline - rain or shine - during training sessions at the club’s Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila.
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Osvaldo Sr. saw his son play in person for the first time in nearly a decade when the Sounders hosted the Galaxy on October 4 at CenturyLink Field, and led the club’s supporters in their traditional “Scarves Up” chant at the beginning of the match.
During recent weeks, the SoundersFC.com staff has filmed the pair at Starfire, CenturyLink Field and at Safeco Field, where they took in a Mariners game from front row seats on the first base side. Alonso and his father were also kind enough to grant SoundersFC.com a brief photo shoot earlier this month as well as a joint interview to discuss their reunion.
We hope the video above outlines at least some of the emotions the men have felt throughout the years – most importantly the elation they felt when they reconnected after eight years apart – and adds another chapter to one of the great stories in Seattle soccer and MLS.