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Reports of Osvaldo Alonso's demise have been greatly exaggerated

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Should we be getting to know a kinder, gentler Ozzie Alonso?

Mike Russell/Sounder at Heart

I went back and re-watched all 191 published minutes that I could find of Ozzie this preseason and I feel like I can draw a few honest conclusions after grading him in a few ways:

Fitness

I heard that Osvaldo Alonso came in to camp out of shape. Nothing in his play this spring leads me to believe that news was wrong. Peak Alonso was able to boss the entire midfield alone. This player is no longer there. I saw marked improvement in his fitness throughout the preseason but he looks heavier and the patented Alonso lateral agility is less than usual. He needs support in the middle.

Range

Without the ability to run ceaselessly for 90 minutes, Alonso's range is definitely decreased. This is still Ozzie though, so that has decreased from 90% of the field to about 50%. Ozzie used to depend on physical ability and endurance to do this and while I think his range improves as he gets more in "peak" condition, the days of Alonso succeeding on an Island alone may have passed us. The team can't rely on him to clean up every mess (especially in the corners where he was fantastic at support) and will need to get some help from a team commitment to defense.

Speed

Alonso is still a fast player, but his pace is only good, not great. Adding guys like Jordan Morris and Joevin Jones really accentuate that Alonso is nowhere near the fastest player on the team anymore. Playing centrally, it is much more important for him to take good angles than to rely on pure sprinting speed, and I believe the team has adapted to get him more central which should offset some loss of burst pace. Without this, he can't be as aggressive diving in to get possession, as his recovery from a miss isn't what it used to be. Seeing a dribbling Diego Valeri run past him is a bit startling.

Skills

Other than a few "preseason" touches and a terrible pass or two whilst playing on a lake, Alonso has shown his control is still there. He looks calm on the ball, and while he isn't yet dribbling out of trouble, there hasn't been need and he still is nearly impossible to win the ball off of.

Conclusions

All of the above things might seem pretty dire until you realize it is still preseason, and we have seen Alonso come back heavy of body and foot after long breaks in play (injury etc). I fully expect at least some of his range and pace to improve as he gets more 90 fit. Alonso is still a great tactical player and though not up to peak Ozzie of a few years ago I noted Alonso making many quality plays and keeping solid shape. His decision making is stellar, and I could see him adjusting to the physical and tactical differences this year very quickly as the preseason wore on. His play improved drastically with each game.

This brings me to some VERY important points:

Tactics

Coach Sigi Schmid made a large change in the last two contests and it has paid off - Instead of having Ozzie sit behind Erik Friberg and Andreas Ivanschitz in an inverted triangle, or playing three interchanging players, he is having Ozzie and Erik play a sort of stacked double pivot. In the first few games Ozzie was getting WAY too high, pushing up past Clint Dempsey and some Nigerian guy at times. With this new adjustment, Alonso is staying much more connected to the defense (Evans in particular) and he is sitting deeper in general. Having both of these central players deep or stacked allows AI to push forward in between Valdez and one of the wide forwards on offense or to pressure the ball. The other wide player (Dempsey or Morris) drops into a midfield defensive structure. This keeps Alonso from having to push wide constantly, saving his legs and keeping him where he can be most effective - in the middle of the pitch.

Personnel

We no longer need Alonso to do everything since we have vastly more talent around him. Specifically, Friberg is covering more ground for the team - Erik has really impressed me this preseason with his positioning and works flawlessly off where Ozzie moves. In this setup Alonso assumed the role of controlling midfielder who switches the ball and keeps possession (I expect very high % passing numbers to continue) while Friberg will be taking a bit higher risk/reward vertical passing and vision usually originating from width, looking to spring wide fullbacks or forwards. With Evans behind him, Alonso has a creative outlet to drop to instead of being forced to dribble out of traffic on his own. With both fullbacks able to press high with pace, the opposing defense isn't able to flood the middle without major consequence on counters. All of these things make the new look Alonso a very good fit for this formation.

Conclusion

It's a different look, but he is still Ozzie Fricking Alonso - Sure, his play has fallen off from team MVP and league best 11. Don't expect him to single-handedly break up counter attacks on his own with anything like the regularity we were accustomed to. Don't expect him to crush every player and then slip and slide on their tears as he starts the ball back the other way. The days of the honey badger slaloming through the defense to score tap in goals in Open Cups might be over. I didn't see nearly as many tackles or physical crushing plays so far, but we don't need that with the new setup. What we need is a metronome style controlling presence who is the anchor in the center of the field that the entire team rotates around. Especially against LA, Ozzie played this role very well. Doing so frees up the players around him to be more aggressive (have you guys seen this Andreas Ivanschitz guy?) I will need to adjust my expectations for the kind of player I expect Alonso to be, but from my viewpoint this spring, Alonso looks primed to succeed in his new role.