TUKWILA, Wash. – Osvaldo Alonso is without peer when it comes to ball-winning.
The tenacious Sounders FC midfielder buzzes around the field terrorizing opposing teams, often single-handedly disrupting their attacks. His nine tackles against Vancouver were the most by an MLS player last weekend.
For the season, Alonso has made a league-leading 94 tackles. Chicago defender Gonzalo Segares ranks a distant second with 59.
“If he’s not the best (in MLS), certainly I can’t think of another two or three who are better than him at recovering the ball in midfield,” said coach Sigi Schmid. “He’s a tremendous competitor.”
But while Alonso’s defensive prowess is feared around the league, that doesn’t mean there aren’t areas to improve. To maximize his impact, the 25-year-old Cuban this season is emphasizing the development of his offensive skills.
Alonso knows adding more finesse in the possession game and accuracy on his shot-taking will take time, but he got a confidence boost with a stellar 84th-minute goal Saturday against the Whitecaps.
The 22-yard strike was Alonso’s first goal of the season.
“I always try (shooting) from outside,” he said through a translator, “and in the first half I also had an opportunity like that. That always motivates me to keep shooting from outside, so I’ll keep doing it.”
Alonso has taken 33 shots this season, which ties him for sixth in MLS ahead of stars like Thierry Henry (27) and Landon Donovan (21). But it’s in passing and possession where Schmid would like to see his central midfielder continue to improve.
“I think he’s making better decisions with the ball,” Schmid said. “He’s seeing the field more than he did at the early part when he played with us in his first year. He’s more aware of the ball that he can switch. He’s still working on his repertoire of passes. It’s like clubs in a golf bag – you have to have all the clubs.”
Durability certainly isn’t an issue. Alonso, voted team MVP in 2010, is Sounders FC’s only field player who’s played all 1,440 minutes this season. He has started 29 consecutive games since July 25, 2010.
Schmid said Alonso will, however, have to adjust to the natural evolution of the game. These days, the coach said, defensive midfielders as well as outside backs are asked to contribute more on offense – as opposed to just forwards and attack-minded midfielders.
“But it’s been good,” Schmid said. “He’s learning, he’s improving and he’s in that little bit of an experimental stage right now, where he’s experimenting with, ‘OK, did this work? Did that work?’ It continues to grow.”
Sounders FC’s road game today in Toronto will mark the halfway point of the regular season. General manager Adrian Hanauer said he agreed with Schmid’s assessment earlier in the week, giving the team a letter grade of B-minus/C-plus.
“I think we’ve done some things well and we’ve also struggled in some areas,” Hanauer said. “We obviously want to be in a better position than we are today. … All things considered I still think we’re in a pretty good place and given our anticipated plans, whether it be bringing guys back from injury or potentially (adding summer signings), I think we’ll have a good second half of the season.”