LA COLUMNA: “Ozzie” Alonso, a Cuban soccer player who has made history in the MLS after escaping from the national team 15 years ago

Jul 7, 2021; Commerce City, Colorado, USA; Colorado Rapids midfielder Cole Bassett (26) takes a shot as Minnesota United FC midfielder Osvaldo Alonso (6) defends in the first half at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

In the United States, baseball is the sport where Cubans have achieved the most fame. However, a soccer player from the Island, Osvaldo Alonso, has achieved the seal of “legendary” in the history of his main professional circuit, Major League Soccer.

Alonso, at 36, has aroused great expectations in Atlanta: the local team, Atlanta United, champion of the MLS in 2018, closed its signing list this Christmas with Alonso’s contract as a free agent.

The Cuban will play his 14th championship . In the last 13 seasons, Alonso has added 336 appearances in the regular season and another 30 in the playoffs.

He has never missed a postseason during that time, collecting the MLS Cup champion trophy in 2016, the Supporters Shield award in 2014 and four US Open Cup titles during the 10 years he played with the team. club Seattle Sounders with which he debuted in 2009.

The former Cuba international has been named to the MLS All-Star team four times, and was featured in the midfield of the MLS Best XI in 2012, and the All-Decade Team.

His last three years, between 2019 and 2021, “Ozzie” Alonso played with Minnesota United and for the first time in its history the club qualified for the playoffs, and did so three times.

In five months, Alonso will be 15 years old since he decided to leave the Cuban national team in Houston when he was playing in the Concacaf Gold Cup. It was June 12, 2007. A newspaper in the Texas city picked up the event.

Fifteen years later I just discovered Alonso in an Atlanta supermarket, despite the protective mask on his face. What a surprise for both! I had not seen him again, in person, since that distant day of his escape that I witnessed as a special envoy to the competition from Havana.

Ozzie Alonso with Miguel Hernandez
Ozzie Alonso with Miguel Hernandez

This Wednesday of the unexpected meeting, just two days ago “Ozzie’ had arrived in the Olympic city from Minnesota where his family is still waiting for his current club to find him a new home.

“Ozzie” was returning from his first training session with Atlanta United, in the city of Marietta, half an hour away by car.

At one point in the dialogue, the mind flew to the past, to that June afternoon when he decided to change the course of his life.

Prior to that first trip to the United States, Alonso had served as captain of the Cuban under-23 team that played in qualifying for the 2008 Olympic Games. With the senior team of his country, he had debuted against the Turks and Caicos Islands in a game of the Caribbean Cup in 2007.

His last appearances in that Gold Cup were against Mexico, directed by Hugo Sánchez at the New Jersey headquarters, and two days later against Panama already in Houston.

.”Since I left Cuba, I was focused on the fact that when I arrived in the United States, I had to take advantage of the opportunity to open a path for myself here. It happened to me in Houston and I had to run away.

” We all went shopping at a supermarket. When the managers were busy in the store, I took advantage and went out. I walked several blocks, quickly, to get away from the place as soon as possible

“In the street I found a person who spoke Spanish, a young Mexican, with whom I identified myself, and I asked him to help me. He lent me his cell phone and I called an ex-girlfriend from Cuba who lived in Miami. Then he took me in his car to the bus terminal.

” I was scared and crazy to get on the first one that came out; I knew they would be looking for me. Thank God, a bus was about to leave and the Mexican friend quickly managed the ticket for me. The trip lasted almost a day and a half because of the changes vehicular”.

Already in Miami several people helped him in those first moments of exile, among them, friends who played with his father, who in Cuba became an outstanding striker in the national championship. His ex-girlfriend would eventually become his wife, and today they have three children, one boy and two girls.

Alonso is a native of San Cristóbal, one of the traditional football arenas in Cuba, then in the province of Pinar del Río, about 90 km west of Havana.

From Miami he traveled to Los Angeles to try out for Chivas USA with the help of Maykel Galindo who had deserted in 2005 when Cuba played the Gold Cup in Seattle. The club was interested in his services but the Cuban still did not have his documents in order. . When the legal papers arrived, the Chivas had already completed their squad.

Alonso tried out for other clubs, also together with Léster Moré, the other Cuban from the national team who had defected in 2007 but days before his teammate when the team played in New Jersey. Both eventually signed with the Charleston Battery of the United Soccer League, Division Two. He started 31 games, was named the team’s 2008 MVP and USL Rookie of the Year.

The following year he would be signed by the Seattle Sounders where he would record a spectacular decade-long career, with whom he also played 22 games in the Concacaf Champions League.

Alonso surpassed 20,000 minutes played for Seattle on April 14, 2017, the first to do so at the MLS level in team history and the 10th in league history. In the final match for the 2016 MLS Cup title, decided by penalties over Toronto FC, Alonso played the full 120 minutes of regulation time with a knee injury and required four pain injections before the game and another four in between. weather.

He was captain of the Seattle Sounders where he became a club legend and considered the best defensive midfielder in MLS history. His time at Minnesota United also marked a milestone.

Ozzie Alonso threw out the first ball three times in Seattle and Minnesota
Ozzie Alonso threw out the first ball three times in Seattle and Minnesota

“The dedication and leadership he provided to the team while he was part of MNUFC will be sorely missed. Thank you, Ozzie Alonso”, is the farewell dedication of a Minnesota video in 2021 that is found on social networks.

Such was the popularity of the Cuban among the sports fans of both cities that on three occasions he was invited to throw out the first pitch at the opening of the Major League Baseball season, twice at the Seattle Mariners’ stadium, and once at the of the Minnesota Twins.

In 2012 Alonso became a United States citizen. At that time, the German Jürgen Klinsmann, technical director of the United States, wished to have his services, made arrangements with FIFA and the Cuban Federation, but the required official authorization letter was never sent from the Island.

“I was in an incredible moment. He could have gone to the 2014 World Cup and had a great chance of being a starter. Klinsmann told me that everything possible was being done. But Cuba’s response never came,” Alonso recalls to Around The Rings.

In 2015, after completing the eight-year ban on athletes considered deserters from visiting the country imposed by the Cuban government, Alonso returned to the island. Before, he had managed to take his parents and sister to live in the United States.

“We are pleased that Ozzie has chosen to sign with us in free agency,” Atlanta United Vice President and Head Coach Carlos Bocanegra said in a press release. “A proven leader, Ozzie is one of the most respected and decorated players of our league. His veteran presence on the pitch and in the dressing room will be a great contribution to our club”.

Alonso immediately responded to the phone call made by the technical director of Atlanta United, the Mexican Gonzalo Pineda, with whom he played in Seattle and later was under his command as a coach at the club itself.

Next February 27 at the spectacular Mercedes Benz Stadium, it will be Atlanta United’s first game in the new MLS season, against Sporting Kansas City. It could also be the debut of the veteran Cuban player.

“Here in Atlanta I hope to win the three Cups in dispute this year,” says Alonso.

Would you be willing to play again with the Cuban team?

“I don’t know, if that day comes when they call me up for the national team, I’ll make the decision when things happen. Now I don’t have an answer.”

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