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Osvaldo Alonso’s departure marks the end of an era

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“El Corazon” will definitely be missed, but it’s not exactly a surprise.

Seattle Sounders vs. Club America: Photos Mike Russell / Sounder at Heart

Osvaldo Alonso’s tenure as “El Corazon de los Sounders” is, officially, over. Minnesota United unveiled their new player on Thursday, announcing they’d signed him through a somewhat complicated waiver process.

But if you’ve been paying any sort of attention, you’ve seen this move coming. If not last year when he was exposed in the Expansion Draft; if not last month when it was revealed that the Seattle Sounders were choosing to let him test free agency; then certainly once not one, but two MLS teams had submitted offers for the 33-year-old midfielder.

That likely doesn’t make his departure any easier, at least emotionally.

Alonso was arguably the Sounders’ most important player during their MLS era, and quite the possibly the most valuable player to ever represent the Sounders. Alonso was rightfully hailed as the top defensive midfielder in the league during much of his 10-year stint with the Sounders. During that time he set numerous franchise records, including appearances and minutes played during the MLS era (and would have passed Zach Scott for the all-time record if he’d played this year) while delivering four U.S. Open Cups, a Supporters’ Shield and, most importantly, a MLS Cup. That Alonso was on the field for all six of those trophies is no coincidence.

“We have seen many great players that have played for our club, but none have had as much influence as Osvaldo Alonso,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said in a press release. “His drive and determination to win was evident from the first day of training, his first game, and continued throughout all of the successful years he had with Sounders FC.

“I feel fortunate to have been able to coach such a tremendous player. We watched his game evolve, his influence grow to where he eventually led us as captain to our first MLS Cup. I want to personally thank him for his play for the last 10 years. We will miss ‘El Corazon.’”

Osvaldo Alonso Sounders stats

COMPETITION GP GS MIN G A
COMPETITION GP GS MIN G A
MLS Regular Season 277 266 23,380 10 24
MLS Cup Playoffs 25 24 2,183 3 0
Hunt U.S. Open Cup 15 13 1,361 6 2
CONCACAF Champions League 22 18 1,809 2 2
TOTALS 339 321 28,733 21 28

Schmetzer was joined by the likes of owner Adrian Hanauer, GM Garth Lagerwey, Sporting Director Chris Henderson, assistant coach Gonzalo Pineda and former teammates Cristian Roldan and Stefan Frei in singing the praises of Alonso. They all found unique ways to bid farewell, but they also seemed to be in agreement that Alonso had earned his place as a Sounders legend.

But that also serves to cast a strange shadow over all this. Alonso isn’t retiring, after all, he’s joining another team and being paid reasonably well to do it — reportedly about $630,000 a year. I don’t think anyone would argue that Alonso is at his peak, but he’s at least close enough that two teams were willing to pay him well to lead their defenses.

What makes all of this even a bit more strange is it doesn’t appear as though the Sounders ever even made Alonso a formal contract offer, only saying back in November that they didn’t want to set an artificial market for him before he’d had a chance to see what kind of offers he might receive.

Understandably, I think, there are those among us who are openly questioning if the Sounders let Alonso leave too easily. Would it have been wise to bring back Alonso at something like his 2018 salary of more than $1.1 million? Almost certainly not. But in recent years it has not been at all uncommon for them to be paying veterans similar wages to what Alonso is getting even if they weren’t guaranteed starters.

But that’s also where this gets more complicated. We know the Sounders weren’t interested in guaranteeing Alonso a starting spot. Schmetzer literally said that in November. Might Alonso have won a starting spot in an open competition between himself, Gustav Svensson and Cristian Roldan? That’s hard to see unless the Sounders were also willing to move Roldan on a semi-permanent basis to the wing, where Jordan Morris and Victor Rodriguez are the presumed starters. As good as Roldan was deputizing as a wide midfielder, even I won’t try to argue it was anything like this best position. Moving him there would have been a temporary fix at best and posing some serious long term risk to stunt Roldan’s development at worst.

What we don’t really know is the role Alonso was willing to accept. Based on his track record, I think we can reasonably assume he wasn’t interested in regularly coming off the bench, only getting minutes when the Sounders were trying to salt away a win or to give the starters rest. Might he have been convinced? It’s definitely possible. But he didn’t become “El Corazon” by accepting anything.

In the end, I can’t help but feel this is the best outcome for all involved. Painful as it will be to see Alonso wearing another shirt — and potentially playing at CenturyLink Field as a visitor during Fan Appreciation Day — I can’t blame him for choosing to be somewhere he felt fully wanted. Alonso will be a starter in Minnesota and if he stays healthy, could prove himself to be a solid bargain.

Whether or not they handled it perfectly, I think the Sounders ultimately did the right thing, too. Even if Alonso had won the starting spot, it would likely come at some longterm cost. The money the Sounders would have spent on Alonso can now be spent bolstering other areas of the team, perhaps bringing in another midfielder who better complements the various parts that are already here.

Still, I’ll definitely miss Alonso. I would have loved to see him retire as, effectively, a one-club man. Alonso played a huge part in making the club what it is today and deserves to be remembered as one of its most important figures. It’s too bad it could not have ended on a more positive note.