A confidential survey of 140 current MLS players had 25 percent picking Sounders captain Osvaldo Alonso as the guy that most "crosses the line'' between fair and dirty play. The next closest player had 11 percent of the vote.
Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso is now officially the league’s biggest pain in the neck to opposing players.
Not to mention, pain in their shins. And their knees, backs, sides and anywhere else on their bodies he can apparently get a crack at. A confidential survey of 140 current Major League Soccer players by ESPN FC, released this week, found 25 percent listed hard-tackling Sounders captain Alonso, 31, as the player that “crosses the line’’ between fair and dirty play more than any other.
New York Red Bulls midfielder Felipe Martins had the second most votes at 11 percent. New york City FC was the only MLS team not to participate in the survey.
“I don’t care what people say about me,’’ Alonso said Wednesday as the Sounders wrapped up their Tukwila workout schedule ahead of Saturday’s game in Montreal. “I play my game. Do my best for the team and that’s it.’’
Opponents say Alonso’s game involves getting under their skin.
“He gets a lot of yellow cards,’’ one player wrote. “He may not be the dirtiest, but he hacks away at people.’’
Another wrote that: “I think that he’s an exceptional player, but I think the way that he carries himself, plays for a big team, whatever it is, the referees are scared to officiate him in ways similar to other players.’’
Indeed, despite his reputation, Alonso has only been sent off three times since breaking in with the Sounders back in 2009. The onetime Cuban defector, now a U.S. citizen, had two red cards in 2013 and another in 2015 for tangling with current Sounders teammate Will Bruin when the latter was with Houston.
But players don’t need to get thrown out of games to unravel opponents. The best such players in all sports, from Bill Laimbeer to Dale Hunter, have long made it an art form to get inside opponents’ heads. And they do it while staying on the field, court or ice more often than not.
Those players tend to be loved by their own teams and fans. But loathed, though still respected for their talent, by opponents.
Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman was exactly that player before this past season’s confrontations with coaches and media soured some home fans towards him. In MLB, you have Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays. Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand is like that in the NHL , while Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors is a good NBA example of a talented player that annoys the heck out of opponents.
Alonso agreed with a suggestion his defensive role of trying to slow down opposing attackers likely contributes to frustration towards him.
“My position is being next to some of the best players on the other team,’’ he said. “I’m always next to the No. 10. From there, I play good defense and try to initiate the attack for us. I try to do what’s best for my team.’’
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said he hadn’t read the ESPN FC story. But he was ready to offer up an opinion about what Alonso means to his team.
“I love Ozzie,’’ Schmetzer said. “What I love about Ozzie is the way he plays and how he plays. OK, there have been incidents over the years where maybe we could have said ‘Let’s keep our composure’ and all that. But I take the good with the bad. There’s a ton more good than ever bad.’’
Schmetzer went on to say Alonso has arguably been the best defensive midfielder in the league since 2009. That Alonso’s passing percentage has been “off the charts’’ and he’s the crucial first link in the team’s back-to-front chain even if not a playmaker like Nicolas Lodeiro or Clint Dempsey.
“I’m sure guys don’t like playing against Ozzie,’’ he added. “But off the field, I know he has a lot of respect amongst his peers.’’