Sounders captain Osvaldo Alonso has signed with Minnesota United FC, making him the last of this city's 2009 expansion team members to depart the club. Alonso won an MLS Cup title, a Supporters' Shield and four U.S. Open Cup trophies as the club's defensive midfield anchor.
It had been accepted within the Sounders ranks some time ago that Osvaldo Alonso, the team’s last remaining original MLS member, had played his final match with the club.
So when it was formally announced Thursday that Alonso, 33, had signed a free-agent deal with Minnesota United FC, the Sounders and general manager Garth Lagerwey already had Plan B in place. That will see Cristian Roldan, newly extended on a five-year deal, moved back in to the defensive midfield alongside Gustav Svensson.
“I think with Jordan Morris coming back, we have an elite attacking player that allows us to slot Cristian back into that middle slot,’’ Lagerwey said, adding that Jordy Delem provides added depth at the position beyond Roldan and Svensson.
Morris also received a contract extension, for three years guaranteed and an option for two more. That and Roldan’s deal are expected to be formally announced before the team opens training camp in fewer than two weeks.
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A year ago, Alonso, the longstanding anchor of Sounders teams that won an MLS Cup, a Supporters Shield and four U.S. Open Cup titles since his 2009 arrival, started the season sidelined with a leg injury for the second straight year. He had been instrumental in the team’s turnaround and MLS Cup run but needed painkillers to get through the championship on damaged knee ligaments and has yet to consistently play at the same level he had previously.
“In more than 40 years of Sounders history, very few players have been as memorable and impactful as Ozzie Alonso,” Sounders FC owner Adrian Hanauer said in a statement. “An MLS original with our club, his transition from USL player to first-team captain has been a remarkable journey to observe, and I am proud of all that Ozzie accomplished within our club. After a decade with this organization and six major championships, all I can say is thank you.”
The proverbial writing was scribbled on the wall loud and clear for Alonso after he missed the 2017 MLS Cup with another leg injury and was subsequently left unprotected in that year’s expansion draft. Though he’d been warned that would happen ahead of time, the frustrated team captain vented about it on social media and used the perceived snub as motivation to get healthy and increase his market value.
Last season, after making it back to the starting lineup by June, Alonso again began displaying his prior intercepting and tackling form — albeit in shorter spurts — that had made him such a Sounders mainstay. With Roldan bumped up to the right wing to free a defensive midfield spot for Alonso, the Sounders went on a league record 13-2-2 second-half run that allowed them to overcome their third consecutive terrible start and make the playoffs for a record 10th year in a row.
But the number of new players arriving in Seattle made it doubtful Alonso would return. Raul Ruidiaz signed in July, followed by left back and potential left wing Brad Smith, who, though on loan from English side Bournemouth, was never a serious risk to be recalled there during the winter transfer window — largely because he finished last season injured and needs to play more — and was always going to start 2019 with the Sounders.
Throw in a resurgent Nicolas Lodeiro — freshly extended last summer and who will assume Alonso’s captaincy — a healthy Victor Rodriguez and a solid Harry Shipp and the Sounders already have a bunch of attacking forwards and wingers scrambling for playing time and don’t need Roldan added to that mix while playing at only his second-best position.
“We’re arguably going to start in a much better place than we were last year,’’ Lagerwey said.
Coupled with the fact Alonso earned $1.142 million last season, it was obvious the Sounders weren’t going to offer him more than what amounted to roughly half that amount to stay.
The money being paid to him by Minnesota reportedly equates to about $100,000 more per year over two seasons after some complicated navigating of the league’s salary-cap rules. But more importantly for Alonso, it’s a chance at starting regularly — in a defensive midfield pairing alongside new Minnesota designated player Jan Gregus from FC Copenhagen — that just wasn’t an option here.
For the Sounders, who have been rebuilding on the fly since their MLS Cup win, it’s a symbolic departure from their franchise’s past. The contributions made by Alonso, a Cuban defector who arrived for that Sounders expansion team after a season with the United Soccer League Charleston Battery in 2008, won’t soon be forgotten in this city.
But his team had moved on. And now, its last original member has as well.