Osvaldo Alonso - Seattle Sounders - Close up

Sebastian Giovinco. Nicolas Lodeiro. Jozy Altidore. Jordan Morris. Michael Bradley.

These are the names that are on every fan and media member’s lips in the lead-up to the MLS Cup final on Saturday (8 pm ET; FOX and UniMás in US | TSN and RDS in Canada). However, there is one name that has been largely been left out of that conversation and he might just have the biggest impact of all of them in MLS Cup.

Osvaldo Alonso is one of three remaining original Seattle Sounders, signing with the team before the inaugural season in MLS back in 2009. Since then he has donned rave green in 247 games and played over 40,000 minutes for the Sounders, including the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, both team records.

It’s not just his longevity that sets him apart from most players, but his exceptional play. The Cuban defensive midfielder was named to the MLS Best XI in 2012 and has been an MLS All-Star on four separate occasions (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014). That run of All-Star appearances was cut short in 2015 due to a groin injury that forced him to miss 12 games in the regular season and all three playoff games.

After that season there was some talk that the Sounders were “actively shopping” Alonso, but he returned to Seattle this year. In fact, after an emotional trip back to his native Cuba, he showed up for training camp three weeks early at the behest of the Sounders’ sports science staff, according to the Seattle Times.

“When I went to Cuba [in the offseason], I came back and I had [an outline for training]. I came back to train with Dave [Tenney, Sounders Director of Performance and Sports Science] but the main thing was that I had no surgery this year and that kept everything in line. I prepared well physically, mentally and came here to train to give everything I have for the team,” Alonso told MLSsoccer.com earlier this week.

The fruits of his labor have been plentiful. The 31-year-old had a resurgent year for the Sounders in his eighth season for the club, with many decryinghis exclusionfrom the Best XI that was announced on Monday.

His head coach Brian Schmetzer was pretty clear Wednesday night when asked if he thinks Alonso is the best defensive midfielder in MLS.

"I would be biased and answer that question yes," Schmetzer said. "He's a tremendous athlete [and] over the years you've seen him grown tremendously as a soccer player." 

Looking at his numbers, it’s easy to see why so many thought Alonso was snubbed. He finished in the top 10 in passes per 90 minutes, passing accuracy, recoveries per 90, tackles per 90 and duel success rate.

MLS rank
Passes Per 90
Passing Accuracy
Recoveries per 90
Tackles per 90
Duel success rate

This year has not been out of the ordinary for Alonso; in fact it might be his best season yet. He has his highest duel success rate this season and has attempted more passes per 90 this season than at any point in his career, completing more than 90 percent.

Some would argue that he generally doesn’t make very aggressive passes, which is true, but he’s not the most conservative passer in MLS. Six midfielders, including Diego CharaKyle Beckerman and Dax McCarty, attempted backwards passes at a higher rate than Alonso, who played the ball back 9.4 percent of the time.

The man playing in front of him certainly appreciates the work that Alonso does in the defensive midfield position.

"Without a doubt, it is beautiful [playing with him]. To me, having a player like Osvaldo is really important. He makes my game much easier,” Lodeiro said. “He does good work, he gives me the ball very clean. It makes my job much easier. Osvaldo's job is indispensable for the team because he works the defending and attacking. He's an amazing player. He has similar characteristics to other players [I've played with] but Osvaldo's the type of player that could play in any league."

Alonso is best known for his defensive work, and that is usually evident when he is shutting down opponent attacks before they even start. His ability to read the game the game is unlike most in MLS, and he doesn’t just halt opponents, but is also adept at jumpstarting the Sounders attack himself.

You can see that kind of ability in the clip below from October 2, when he halts a Vancouver Whitecaps counterattack and feeds Joevin Jones into space down the left flank.

Of course those aren’t the only kind of tackles that he makes. He still is one of the best at making last-ditch tackles to prevent goalscoring opportunities, like this one against Real Salt Lake on Decision Day.

On Saturday he will likely be tasked with keeping track of two of the top forwards in MLS in Altidore and Giovinco. Whether dealing with the strength of Altidore or the technical ability of Giovinco, it’s clear that Alonso should be up to the task based on his exceptional play this season.

Ari Liljenwall contributed to this report.