TUKWILA, Wash. — Osvaldo Alonso is not yet a free agent, at least not technically. That won’t happen until three days after MLS Cup when a list of all eligible players is distributed. But barring what would now have to be considered a rather massive surprise, Alonso will become the highest-profile Seattle Sounders player to be allowed to test that market.
Sounders GM and President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey made that abundantly clear during an end-of-season press conference on Tuesday.
“There’s been some discussion about what we can do, but what I’ll tell you is that we’re more focused on what we should do,” Lagerwey said when asked about Alonso’s status. “Free agency is a right the players fought for very hard. It was a very contentious issue in the last CBA. We want to respect that right. We want our players to be able to explore the marketplace. It feels equitable, it feels fair.”
Lagerwey compared Alonso’s situation to the one facing Brad Evans last year, another team captain who was allowed to test free agency when his contract ran out. Although the Sounders did eventually make Evans an offer, he ultimately chose to sign with Sporting KC.
“These are guys in Evans and Ozzie who spent a decade in service to this club and it shouldn’t be something where we monolithically impose this number,” Lagerwey said. “Those conversations will be ongoing. I don’t expect the situation to be wrapped up over night, and that’s OK. These guys have earned that.”
The situations with Evans and Alonso while broadly similar, are not quite the same, though. Evans was coming off a year in which he missed the last four months with a back injury and it was unclear when he’d be healthy enough to play. He ended up trialing with Sporting KC before signing there, but never ended up logging any first-team minutes.
Alonso, on the other hand, is coming off a season in which he was considered an integral part of a MLS Cup contender and started the Sounders’ final 17 games, including two playoff contests. In other words, the Sounders clearly saw value in Alonso.
The question is “how much?” You barely even needed to read between the lines to see that the Sounders were only interested in potentially bringing back Alonso at a salary far less that what he was previously making (about $1.1 million, according to the MLS Players Union).
“We want the Sounders to be a desirable place for payers to play in the long term and part of that is treating people well,” Lagerwey said. “For myself, to ask someone to make less money than they made before and not be able to investigate if that’s a fair market or not, that doesn’t seem fair.”
This being MLS, there’s no such thing as a true “fair market,” especially for players like Alonso. Although it might be possible for him to get more than the maximum-salary number in some sort of sign-and-trade, the CBA prohibits free agents from making more than that if they switch teams. That would mean Alonso will almost certainly need to accept a pay more than 50 percent if he leaves.
Adding to the Sounders’ is that they don’t necessarily see Alonso as an automatic starter at this point. Gustav Svensson has re-signed and as good as he was as an outside mid, Cristian Roldan is still probably best deployed as a more defensive midfielder.
“That’s got to be competition,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said. “They all know the gig. Ozzie is a tremendously talented player. I can’t think of many other players that have the drive and determination he’s shown during his years here. But that doesn’t guarantee him a starting spot. He has to earn that. If Cristian is better or Gustav or Jordy Delem or someone else the coaching staff thinks is better, that’s our job.”
None of this necessarily closes the door on Alonso’s return. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that Alonso will survey the other offers and determine he’s better off taking whatever the Sounders are offering.
That doesn’t quite fit the image of Alonso we’ve cultivated over the years, though. This is a player who’s always played with a certain passion and self-belief that suggests he’s more interested in proving himself than playing it safe. If the rumors are true that there’s a real market for him, especially on teams where he’s likely to start, I’d be a little surprised to see him return. Alonso hasn’t technically played his last game in Rave Green, but it’s looking increasingly likely that he has.