If there’s one thing that the loss to Toronto FC laid bare, it’s that the Seattle Sounders have room for improvement. Just how much they need was probably overstated in that game — somehow every Sounders midfielder seemed to have their worst game of the season at the same time — but there was clearly something missing.
While the focus this offseason is how the Sounders can close that gap with outside additions, it hardly seems like a stretch to suggest that a fully fit Osvaldo Alonso would have helped immensely. Count Steve Zakuani among the people who fall strongly on that side.
“In those games is where you see the difference,” Zakuani said during a wide-ranging interview on Nate Bowling’s “Nerd Farmer” podcast. “I guarantee you Michael Bradley wouldn’t have had the field day he had if Ozzie were there. I spoke to Ozzie right after the game, the first thing he says to me is, ‘The first 10 minutes, why didn’t anybody kick Giovinco?’ That’s the first thing, that’s how he thinks.
“Against the big teams, Ozzie’s job is stop the No. 10. ... Ozzie is the guy who says he’ll shut down David Villa, I’ll take Giovinco. He loves that responsibility. He’s been doing that since I was there.”
Given that belief, it’s hardly surprising that Zakuani could at least understand why Alonso reacted the way he did at news he would be left unprotected in the MLS Expansion Draft.
“Of course you’re going to be upset,” he said before channeling his inner Alonso: “I’m an untouchable guy and I’ve gone from that to expendable in their eyes. I understand why the club did it, but 100 percent I get this is Osvaldo Alonso, not some random guy.”
Zakuani took particular issue with the seemingly widely held belief that losing Alonso wouldn’t have been a big deal anyway, as Cristian Roldan has shown himself capable of carrying that burden.
“When I see people saying we can afford to lose Ozzie because we have Cristian, I just shake my head,” he said. “You do not understand who Osvaldo Alonso is. There’s levels to this. Cristian is good. ... Bro, Ozzie don’t even get me started. There are levels to this.
“Osvaldo Alonso is the best player in Sounders history — apart from Oba, I’m not counting him because he’s not human, that’s not fair — but Ozzie is by far, ask anyone who’s been here, they will say it. Guys from 2009 will say it, guys from 2017 will say it. To say we can move on without him now, be careful what you wish for. That guy has two-three more years. He’s had some injuries, but his performance has never dipped. I’ve never seen three games in a row where I’ve thought he’s losing it. No, when he plays he’s still the man.”
Zakuani went to great lengths to sing Roldan’s attributes — and points out that he’s been rapidly improving every year — but was clear in his belief that the Sounders still benefit greatly from having Alonso on the field.
“Cristian knows that,” he said. “Cristian is nowhere near Osvaldo Alonso as a player. You’re not going to build an MLS roster around Cristian and say ‘carry me forward.’ I’ll do that with Ozzie. Give Cristian two-three more years, the best thing for Cristian is having Ozzie on the team. You can learn from Ozzie.”
It should probably be said that the numbers tell a different story than Zakuani. Last year, the Sounders were a middling 8-8-8 when Alonso started and 9-2-4 in their other matches (including playoffs).
Still, it’s hard to quantify what a player like Alonso can bring in “big-game” atmospheres. This is a player who’s appeared in six cup finals and the only time he lost was in a penalty shootout. Zakuani also suggests he thinks Alonso would be better off being limited to 20-24 regular season games with the idea of keeping him fresh for the postseason, which might actually be a luxury the Sounders can afford with their current roster.
If the Sounders can get Alonso to the postseason healthy, Zakuani is bullish.
“Cristian will get there, don’t get me wrong, but there are levels in this sport,” he said. “Bro, in Ozzie’s position he’s the best player this league has ever seen.”