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Is Ozzie Alonso the dirtiest player in MLS?

Anonymous survey of MLS players suggests it’s at least a reasonably common perception.

Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting KC: Photos Mike Russell/Sounder at Heart

There might not be a player in Seattle Sounders history more universally loved by the fan base, teammates, and front office than Osvaldo Alonso. It’s not hard to understand why. Alonso’s rare combination of hard tackling and slick passing have made him one of the top defensive midfielders throughout his MLS career.

It’s a common refrain that while Alonso may be a hard-nosed player, he’s not necessarily dirty. Well, perceptions around the league may be a bit a different.

According to an anonymous survey of 140 MLS players conducted by ESPN, Alonso was named as the player who “crosses the line in terms of discipline more than any other” by 25 percent of respondents. The New York Red Bulls Felipe Martins had the second most votes with 11 percent. Clint Dempsey was named by 2 percent of players.

To be fair, “crosses the line” does not entirely equate to “dirtiest” and the only player quoted about Alonso even makes that distinction, saying, “He gets a lot of yellow cards. He may not be the dirtiest, but he hacks away at people.” Still, there’s a perception that Alonso is constantly testing what referees will call.

While that may be the perception, the numbers don’t quite bear that out. Last year, for instance, Alonso committed 51 fouls in 33 matches. That’s not even among the top 10, with the Timbers’ Diego Chara leading the way with 86. Alonso’s seven yellow cards put him outside the top 20, four fewer than league-leader Marcelo Sarvas. Alonso also only had one red card — and only has three in his career. Drilling down a bit more, only five of Alonso’s cards came for tackles, which is tied for the 24th most. Over his career, Alonso has averaged a foul every 57 minutes, which doesn’t seem particularly high for a defensive midfielder. (h/t @agtk)

Where the perception may come from, though, is how often Alonso is involved in tackles or other duels. Alonso’s 77 successful tackles were the second most in the league and his 218 total successful duels were the most.

This dichotomy is perhaps best exemplified by the Alonso’s tackle on Benny Feilhaber in last year’s Opening Round playoff game against Sporting Kanas City. Alonso was already sitting on a yellow — for a late tackle on Roger Espinoza — and then came sliding in on Feilhaber. Ultimately, it wasn’t even called a foul, but that only contributed to Feilhaber and Sporting KC fans losing their collective minds.

Numbers, of course, can only tell us so much. The reality is that Alonso does push the line of what is acceptable. As fans of his, we can appreciate that kind of spirit, but we also shouldn’t be surprised when outsiders take a different view.

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