Maybe the most shocking development from the Seattle Sounders' 3-0 loss to Real Salt Lake on Saturday was the play of Osvaldo Alonso. Throughout his three-year MLS career, he has been the most reliable Sounders player. Fredy Montero is prone to hot and cold streaks; Kasey Keller has allowed a soft goal or two; the defense has looked shaky at various times. But the one constant has always been the play of our very own Honey Badger.
Alonso, of course, earned that nickname because of his tenacious, never-say-die playing style. His tireless pursuit of the ball and the ferocity with which he attained it have become a thing of legend among the Sounders faithful.
Most of that was absent on Saturday. It's hard to pinpoint what exactly went wrong, but clearly Alonso was off his game. Granted, that's judging on a pretty massive curve, as Alonso may well have been the Sounders' best outfield player, but he was not playing up to his standard.
Clearly, if the Sounders are going to climb out of this enormous hole they've dug for themselves, it's probably going to have start with the Return of the Honey Badger.
Alonso's role is so deep and thorough that he's been called the team's MVP by coach Sigi Schmid, despite the outstanding seasons of Keller, Montero and Mauro Rosales. It's easy to see why: Not only is Alonso's deep-lying playmaking a key to the Sounders' offense, but he also is a massively disruptive force on the oppositions ability to generate a sustained attack. Or at least that's normally what he does.
Perhaps the most glaring area where Alonso was missed was not in his subpar -- at least by his standards -- 79 percent passing completion rate, but at his inability to do much to break up RSL's attack. At times, RSL seemed to be playing a man up. The sequence that led to the first goal included 14 completed passes and eight different outfield players touched the ball. In the whole contest, RSL completed an astounding 80 percent of their passes.
As much as the Sounders need to score goals, and as big as Alonso's part needs to be in that, an equally important part will be denying RSL the ability to play keep away as much as they did on Saturday. Javier Morales and Kyle Beckerman can not be allowed nearly as much space as they got in the first leg, as the 30 games they spent apart clearly had little negative effect on their chemistry.
Alonso is at his best when he's playing with a certain controlled chaos. As the Sounders' season was rounding into shape, Alonso largely managed to stay out of the book. His only yellow card during the Sounders' final 13 MLS matches, in which they went 9-3-1, was during the loss to RSL on Sept. 10. That kind of control was very much not in evidence on Saturday, most clearly illustrated by the yellow card he picked up for shoving Alvaro Saborio.
If the Sounders are going to have any chance to mount this comeback, it almost certainly has to start with Alonso's ability to once again walk that fine line between chaos and control. Alonso needs to be the Honey Badger, again.