Warshaw: Why Ozzie Alonso is a gamble Minnesota United have to make

Ozzie Alonso is one of the best, if not the best, MLS players at his position over the last 10 years, at a position that might be the most important element to a solid defense. On Thursday he signed for a team that’s had the worst defensive two-year stretch in league history.

Minnesota United FC conceded 71 goals in 2018. That’s the second-most goals conceded in a season in league history. The four worst defensive seasons, in terms of most goals conceded, look like this:

  • 1. Orlando 2018 (74)
  • T-2. Minnesota 2018 (71)
  • T-2. San Jose 2018 (71)
  • 4. Minnesota 2017 (70)

Yeah, that’s ugly. So yes, this could be a very good move for the Loons.

Ask any defender in the world about the most important way to help a defense, and they will almost always tell you the same thing: an elite defensive midfielder. Someone who makes opposing attacks predictable, who can win his individual duels, who can smell danger before it starts – that’s someone who makes everything about defending easier. Alonso will one day go on the Mount Rushmore of MLS defensive midfielders.

He could, individually, improve Minnesota’s biggest weakness.

But it’s only could be because it’s a bet from MNUFC. His longtime club the Seattle Sounders apparently did not match Minnesota’s offer to Alonso; every player hits the top of the hill at some point, ya know? Alonso will be 33 for the 2019 season. He was still spectacular for most of 2018… but 33 is in the region of that peak. A healthy Alonso would make any team in MLS a playoff contender. But a past-his-prime player on what is a multi-year guaranteed TAM contract could be a burden.

I’d make the move if I were Minnesota. It’s certainly a difficult decision. But I think we too often forget that everything contains risk. At least here you’re taking the chance on:

  • a top-five player in his position...
  • with a chip on his shoulder...
  • at a spot that Minnesota have needed more than any other in their MLS existence...
  • for TAM-level compensation.

That feels like a higher upside with a higher probability of working out than most MLS. It seems to me that Alonso maintaining his form carries the same level of risk as someone like Jan Gregus coming into the league and getting to Alonso’s 2018 levels.

Minnesota are in win-now mode. Darwin Quintero is 31, with a playing style and a position that doesn’t generally treat players older than 31 very well. Designated Player striker Angelo Rodriguez will be 30 for most of the year. And gorgeous Allianz Field opens in April.

I’d rather take a bet on Ozzie Alonso than just about anyone in MLS.