Sounders to let Alonso explore free-agent market: "Ozzie has earned that"

Osvaldo Alonso - Celebrates - Sounders vs. Galaxy

TUKWILA, Wash. – He’s arguably the most beloved Seattle Sounder in the history of the club, but could Ozzie Alonso be suiting up for another team in 2019?

Alonso has unquestionably been one of the dominant defensive midfielders in MLS since he started with Seattle in the club’s expansion season of 2009. But with the Sounders now in offseason mode following their gut-wrenching penalty-kick shootout exit to the Portland Timbers in the Western Conference Semifinals of the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs, the 33-year-old is out of contract with the club, officially making him a free agent.

Speaking at a Tuesday afternoon press conference at Starfire Sports Complex, Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey didn’t provide any concrete updates on where negotiations currently stand between the club and player. But Lagerwey did say he’s aware that Alonso will carry plenty of value on the open market, and he supports his player’s right to at least test those waters.

“Free agency is a right for which the players fought very hard,” Lagerwey said. “This was a very contentious issue in the previous CBA. They fought very hard for this and we want to respect that right. We want our players in this situation to be able to explore the marketplace. That feels equitable. It feels fair.

“These are guys in both [Brad] Evans [last offseason] and Ozzie that literally spent a decade in service to this club,” he added. “It shouldn’t be something where we monolithically impose like, ‘This is the number we think [you’re worth] and that’s it.’ So, those conversations will be ongoing. I don’t expect that process to wrap up overnight and that’s okay. Those guys have earned that. Ozzie has earned that.”

Alonso has had his share of durability issues in recent seasons, and started 21 of Seattle’s 34 league games this year. But in his 1,833 minutes of action in 2018, he also showed he’s still one of the most imposing physical midfield presences and lethally accurate passers the league has to offer.

There’s also the sentimental aspect to consider, with Alonso representing the last Sounders’ 2009 original on the roster and one of the most popular players on the team – both within the fan base and in the locker room.

“For me, the decision is not about what we can do, it’s about what we should do,” Lagerwey said. “The most important thing is how we treat our players. The most important thing is the broad concept of free agency, which is that we want the Sounders to be a desirable place for players to play in the long term. And part of that is treating people well. For myself, to ask someone to potentially accept less money than they made before and not be able to investigate if that’s a fair market value or not – that [would be] unfair.”

As for the rest of Seattle’s lengthier-than-usual offseason, there still figures to be roster movement on the horizon as it progresses. The club announced on Monday that it exercised contract options on 10 players in addition to the 12 already signed for next season, leaving eight spots to be determined on the first-team roster.

There’s also an open Designated Player spot that could be filled, with midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro and striker Raul Ruidiaz Seattle’s two players currently on DP contracts.

“We’re looking at all three lines: Defense, midfield, attack,” said Sounders sporting director Chris Henderson. “We have two windows where we may spread those out, the signings for those positions. But right now we’re looking at all three lines. We’ve been to three different continents scouting, it’s been a busy last few months of travel and getting the group together and talking about players.

“Now we get into the process of trying to narrow down our targets and whether that plays out for this window in January or the summer window. We’ll see how that plays out.”