BY Stanley Holmes 11:59PM 02/17/2011

Sounders get it right with Alonso extension

Sounders most valuable player last year receives a pay boost for his effective and efficient play. It’s about time.

Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso has a fresh deal with the club / Sounders FC

The Seattle Sounders rewarded talent and hard work — offering defensive midfield stalwart Osvaldo Alonso a new contract.

It was the right thing to do.

The club announced Thursday it had renegotiated Alonso’s contract, bumping up his pay and securing his services through the 2014 season. If any Sounders player deserved a pay hike for services rendered, then few can quibble with shelling out a few more bucks to Alonso.

Known as the “Bulldog” by his teammates, the slight, small-framed Cuban national team player has a ferocious bite, a crunching tackle and impeccable timing. His absence early last season because of injury certainly contributed to the team’s disarray and disjointed play.

When he returned (and Swedish malcontent Freddie Ljungberg had left) in mid-July, the Sounders took off and played some superlative soccer. Alonso is the glue in the middle of the field and one of the hardest working and most underrated defensive midfielders in the league.

He’s not perfect. He needs to continue to improve his passing and not cough up the ball to the opponents after he wins it, and he could score and assist more frequently than he does.

Still, he also was underpaid if you consider the outsized contribution he brings to the team. Last year, Alonso received nearly $69,000 in guaranteed compensation, according to the MLS Players Union. The Sounders would not disclose the terms of his new contract, but it’s fair to say his pay boost was reasonable. Every little bit helps.

The Sounders recognized and rewarded a key player who teammates voted as the most valuable last year. Also called “Ozzie,” Alonso is entering his third year with the Sounders.

Contract talks had been continuing between Alonso and the front office during the offseason but intensified in the past month, Alonso said. He said he’s happy to secure a longer term future in Seattle. This is where he and his family want to live and this is where he wants to play his soccer — at least for now. He said the contract still needs to be finalized.

“We are thrilled to extend Ozzie’s contract for an additional two years,” said general manager Adrian Hanauer. “Through his hard work, intensity and heart, Ozzie is certainly deserving of the reward of a bigger and longer contract.”

Coach Sigi Schmid echoed Hanauer’s comments, himself a big fan of the Cuban bulldog. He went so far as to question Soccer America’s ratings of the top MLS defensive midfielders. Alonso failed to make the top of the list — a source of irritation for Schmid.

“I think Ozzie is probably one of the more underrated players in our league,” Schmid said. “When I look at the, for example, Soccer America rankings of defensive midfielders it’s a little bit surprising who some people hold ahead of Ozzie. I think anybody who watches his game day in and day out you really appreciate what he can do.”

In 2010 Alonso, 25, helped to steer the Sounders to compiling the best record in MLS over the second half of the season. Once he returned from a seven-game absence due to injury, Seattle went 9-2-2. In addition to winning balls and starting attacks, Alonso scored one goal and added three assists in 23 league appearances. Nine of the 11 shutouts were achieved in games he played.

Rookie Servando Carrasco, himself a defensive midfielder, has been studying the way Alonso plays in the middle of the field. The Cuban has the ability to glide and slice through the opposition and then at the perfect moment he’ll come in for the kill, winning the ball and restarting the attack.

Related: Sounders rookie Carrasco playing without fear

“He’s always in the right spot and the right time,” Carrasco said. “It’s no surprise that he wins so many tackles. He reads the game so well.”

Said Schmid: “I’m happy he’ll be with us for a while.”

As should Sounders fans.


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