Once he decided to leave his native Cuba, Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso knew it would be years, if ever, before he saw family again. But his grandparents were permitted to join him this week in Seattle.
Tucked into Saturday nights energized soccer crowd at Qwest Field were two special guests.
An older couple sat in suite nine, toward the south end of the stadium. From that perch they watched their grandson run Seattles pitch for the first time.
Irene Pardo Almora, 70, and Diosdado Alonso Morales, 72, watched their nieto, Osvaldo Alonso, zip around the field against Portland in a downpour. Their arrival in Seattle was a culmination of months of planning.
Four years passed prior to Alonso seeing their faces after Sounders practice Thursday in Tukwila. Liang Alonso escorted her husband’s grandparents from the airport following a flight from their native Cuba to Miami, then to Seattle. Irene and Diosdado were allowed visas to the United States because they are over 65.
We hugged each other, Alonso said through a translator Saturday night. It was a beautiful moment after so many years. Happiness in the air.
Four years ago, Alonsos decision to leave a Houston Wal-Mart without his teammates on the U-23 Cuban national team came with the steep price: The likelihood of never seeing family again. His roots in San Cristobal, about 60 miles southwest of Havana, were left behind.
Despite indications that Raul Castros administration may relax tourist visa requirements — the paperwork alone is often too expensive for a the typical Cuban to complete — it remains difficult for Cubans to reach U.S. soil. Once they make it, they are allowed to remain in the U.S., the so-called wet-foot, dry-foot policy.
The couple is on a six-month visa received through the U.S. Embassy. Alonso said its up to them how long they want to stay, but that they will definitely return to Cuba. The visit stirred memories of home, where he is no longer allowed after defecting while captain of the Cuban team he abandoned.
One always misses home when they leave, Alonso said. But it was a good opportunity and well see when they go back.
The flip side of Alonsos decision to stay in America was that those he left behind had to accept the consequences.
They were sad, Alonso said of his grandparents. It was a tough decision that I had to make.
They felt bad in the beginning, and missed me a lot. They still miss me, but now they got used to it. The important thing is Im doing what I like and thinking about my future.
Despite the dearth of soccer participation in Cuba, Alonso said his grandfather knows a lot about the game — enough to help his father become a youth soccer coach — and provides helpful messages. His grandmother, well, not so much.
Their arrival amid Saturday nights carnival that rebooted the Seattle-Portland rivalry delivered a quiet message of perspective.
The local storylines were about manic action in the streets, followed by ferocity on the field. For Alonso, it was an evening with grandma and grandpa watching, a chance to talk with them post-game. It’s always different talking to your grandparents.
Post-game, he sat off to the side with them in Qwest Field’s Green Loft. Boisterous drunkards and players with their families reveled in the lounge.
Unlike after other matches, Alonso was not resplendent, socializing in an all-white suit. He conversed in a black suit and red tie, quietly engaged face-to-face with loved ones in a re-connection years in the making.
Follow Todd on Twitter at @Todd_Dybas.