Editors note: This article previously stated that Alonso missed time during Seattle's run to the 2016 MLS Cup. It has been updated to reflect that he started every playoff match that season.
PORTLAND – Ozzie Alonso is looking like his old self, and if the Seattle Sounders midfielder can maintain his recent form through the rest of the season and into the MLS Cup Playoffs, the prospects could be scary for the rest of the Western Conference.
Alonso has struggled with injuries the past few seasons and was sidelined for Seattle’s run to the 2017 MLS Cup final. That’s led to some chatter that the 32-year-old might be over the hill, and the Sounders might be better served to move on from their legendary stalwart enforcer.
Alonso is quieting the critics over the past few weeks, however. The man affectionately dubbed “The Honey Badger” has looked spry and back to vintage form over the course of Seattle’s recent run of seven straight victories, and he put in another throwback performance in the Sounders’ 1-0 Heineken Rivalry Week win over the Portland Timbers on Sunday.
“He sent a few messages out there,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said postgame. “I don’t know who’s sending them to, whether it’s Portland and we see them again, all that sort of stuff. I think Ozzie’s pride, overall who he is, that’s what’s showing out there.
“Everybody goes through times where they’re injured or things don’t go your way. He has persevered through some of those tough moments. So it’s all a credit to him.”
Ozzie Alonso was #PORvSEA Man of the Match:— Jason Foster (@JogaBonito_USA) August 27, 2018
56/63 (89%) passes
8/12 long balls
10/12 duels won
2 aerials won
Incredible defensive work in midfield. Made for gritty, intense rivalry matches.#Sounders #MLS pic.twitter.com/qWRnk1kJ4p
The Sounders have been famously reliant on Alonso over the years, at times to a fault. The team’s game plan would often crater without his services and unique ability to cover seemingly limitless ground to cut out counterattacks, while also playing a vital role as a pinpoint passer to facilitate the attack.
With their captain now healthy, Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei said he’s noticed the obvious impact made by Alonso’s return to the fold.
“He’s healthy,” Frei said. “We always know that Ozzie’s a good player and we’ve always had an abundance of good players but if those players aren’t healthy and able to produce on the field, the quality doesn’t help. So, for us to have him consistently on the field, it’s allowed him to show his quality.”
The Sounders’ focus is now on figuring out how to keep him on the field as much as possible and avoid a rehash of his last two injury-shortened campaigns. If they’re able to do so, Alonso certainly still has the look of the player who long ago established himself as arguably the best defensive midfielder in MLS history.
“We always knew he had the quality, but it’s really, really important to have people stay healthy, especially people like him that play with so much heart and expend a lot of energy,” Frei said. “As you get older you have to take care of your body. So, hopefully we can make sure he stays healthy and he can make sure he stays healthy, because he’s a vital part of the team.”