TUKWILA – Gonzalo Pineda, after a grueling recovery from sports hernia surgery, had modest expectations at the start of the Sounders FC season. He figured it would take at least two months before he could contend for a place in the starting lineup.
He wasn’t even close.
Pineda, a former Mexican international, made his Seattle debut as an early substitute in Week 2 and has been on the field for all 601 minutes since. It seems hard to believe the 31-year-old midfielder was considering retirement before signing with the Sounders, as he played a crucial, yet unheralded, role in the team’s rise to first place.
“It is surprising for me, also,” said a smiling Pineda, whose three assists are tied for fourth in MLS.
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At the core of Pineda’s quick success has been a blossoming partnership with Osvaldo Alonso, Sounders FC’s four-time team MVP who has had no less than 16 midfield partners over six seasons in Seattle. These two have traits that complement each other perfectly.
Alonso is a tenacious ball-winner, perhaps the best in MLS at recovering the ball and gritty defensive work. Pineda, a crafty veteran with World Cup experience, is a standout passer with great vision who can start the attack and distribute the ball to Seattle’s stars up front.
“That’s a pretty effective combo,” said assistant coach Brian Schmetzer.
When Pineda first arrived in preseason, Schmetzer immediately saw an impact player. Questions loomed about the newcomer’s health, but those issues were overshadowed by the qualities he brought with cerebral play and organization on the field.
Pineda hasn’t been flawless, of course. A couple of weeks ago, he was the main culprit on a goal in Portland that gave away an early Seattle lead.
“That’s the easy thing to see,” Schmetzer said. “Mistakes and negatives things are always the easiest thing to see in any situation. What you might not see Pineda doing is giving Ozzie that little bit of instruction on the field that makes Ozzie a better player — if that’s possible.
“Those are the little things that we see. The average guy in the stands can’t hear Pineda talking to Ozzie on the training field like we do, but those are some of the intangibles that he brings that are really fantastic.”
Communication has always been a part of Pineda’s game.
“Sometimes too much,” he said with a laugh. “I can’t let things happen and not say something.”
There are some difficulties, though, as Spanish is Pineda’s first language, and instructions in English sometimes don’t come out quickly and accurately enough, he admitted. That isn’t an issue with Alonso, a Cuban-American and another native Spanish speaker. Consider it another aspect to a thriving partnership that is also turning into a friendship.
Pineda said when he joined the Sounders he didn’t know how much fans here love Alonso, his roommate on the road, “but from the very beginning I understood he was an important player. … He’s also a very good man, and I try to be around good people.”
Alonso had similar praise of Pineda: “Great player, a World Cup player, and he’s a good guy. I’m very happy he’s here.”
• Sounders FC’s road game Sept. 20 at New York has been pushed back to 4:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on the NBC Sports Network. The game was originally scheduled for 11:30 a.m. on NBC.
• Jordan Morris of Mercer Island, a U.S. youth international and one of Sounders FC’s top homegrown prospects, will play the upcoming PDL season for the Sounders FC U-23s following his spring semester at Stanford.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @joshuamayers.