On Sunday Osvaldo Alonso will pay his first visit to CenturyLink Field in opposition colors, and the Seattle Sounders are preparing to both honor and battle one of their club’s all-time greats as he leads Minnesota United into a weighty clash on Decision Day presented by AT&T (4 pm ET | TV & streaming info).
“It adds a bit of flavor to the game, right? Ozzie returning and how special this place was to him and how the fans embraced Ozzie,” said Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan, Alonso’s onetime partner and spiritual successor, this week. “Ozzie is a special player in this franchise, in the history of this franchise, and he's going to mean a lot going forward. But at this point, he’s a Minnesota player and we have to prepare as if he’s the opposing team.”
A Sounders fixture over their first decade in MLS, Alonso anchored the midfield and set the tempo in his No. 6 role, earning the nickname “Honey Badger” from the Rave Green faithful for his doggedness and intensity.
His Seattle teams won four U.S. Open Cups, the 2014 Supporters’ Shield and the 2016 MLS Cup, and never once missed the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, making him an irresistible target for Minnesota when he entered free agency last winter. And the Loons’ fortunes have duly turned upwards with reinforcements like him and veteran center back Ike Opara in the fold, leaving them neck-and-neck with the Sounders in a race for second place in the Western Conference on Decision Day.
“Ozzie was a massive part of this franchise for many years. And we certainly miss him,” said Seattle head coach Brian Schmetzer. “But we got to see him in a different uniform in Minnesota [in a 1-1 draw on May 4], so the shock is not quite as much, maybe, perhaps, as some of our fans seeing him walk out as a captain of Minnesota.
“So it will be an emotional day. And so that little sidenote is important. It’s important to acknowledge Ozzie and what he’s done, but our focus is going to be absolutely, positively on the game. Decision Day is a great thing, I love it and it’s going to come down to the wire for a couple of teams … it’s going to be a tight game.”
Roldan noted that Alonso’s impact on matches remains significant enough for the Sounders to game-plan on how to reduce his influence on Sunday.
“He’s such a special and talented player that a lot of our tactics are around him. We have to avoid him having the ball,” said the US international.
“It’s obviously a tough challenge to play against him, and I know his tendencies and he knows mine. It’s going to be an even match in terms of us two, I think. But he’s such a good player and such a nice person that you can’t talk about about him. Ozzie’s just so great to us and what I remember about Ozzie is nothing but good things.”