When Osvaldo Alonso signed with the Seattle Sounders back in the fall of 2008 it was coming off a season with the Charleston Battery that wasn't just impressive, but amazing. He was the team Player of Year, led the team to a US Open Cup Final appearance (after beating Seattle in the semis), USL-1 Rookie of Year, scored seven goals and assisted on seven more. He looked to have a bright future as an all around threat.
Then in his time here he was clearly used as a defensive midfielder. He was tenacious, sometimes ferocious. He became the Honey Badger (link to video with colorful language). When asked if he felt he needed to try harder when defending the greats in his league he responded simply. "My position is to win the ball. Somebody gets the ball I want to get it." He has clearly established himself as one of the best ball winners in MLS. In his role it is he or Kyle Beckerman, and that's it. Maybe the idea that he could be more than a holding mid was gone.
Or maybe not. Against CSD Comunicaciones he was an offensive threat. He dribbled, passed, shot and scored. The other CM, in this case Erik Friberg, still worked a box-to-box role, but didn't cover nearly as much ground. Instead Alonso would defend behind him and attack in front. Take a look at his defensive charts in this game and the DC United win when he shut Dwayne De Rosario down. To simplify here's a graphic with just the central 40% of the pitch.
On the left is the CCL draw. He's much more central, more narrow. To the right there's a handful of tackles and fouls that don't don't show, but are towards the bottom. With one of the best players in the history of MLS needing to be shutdown, it was Alonso who did it. Facing a less skilled squad he was granted a certain freedom. A freedom to attack.
Does that look a little more dense on the left? That would be the attacking play of the badger down in Guatemala. It was an 87% success rate with 71 attempts. If you felt like he was more in the attack, well he was. Again, the right is the DC United game. He was still fairly successful (83%) but only in 48 passes. He was scattered and much less frequently in the attack.
Part of this may be evolution from Sigi's Arrow into a more traditional alignment of the two center mid shapes. Or it could be a single game tactic to exploit the less offensively threatening team. One thing is clear, Alonso is capable of much more than extraordinary defense and long range shots. His passing is much better, and now he's netted 4 goals in run of play.
It is clear though that he can do more than just stop the opposition now. That kind of flexibility can help the tactical planning for Sigi Schmid's planning in the US Open Cup and MLS Cup Playoffs. It may be time to just refer to Osvaldo Alonso as central midfielder - no defensive caveat needed.