To get the complementary midfielder it wanted, Minnesota United worked with Seattle and swung a Thursday trade with Orlando City to obtain veteran free agent Ozzie Alonso.
When all the maneuvering was done, the Loons acquired through waivers a 33-year-old player beloved during his 10 seasons in Seattle — four as an MLS all-star — for his defensive doggedness. One of the Sounders’ three designated players, Alonso earned the nickname “Honey Badger’’ from fans.
Three weeks after they signed Slovakian national team member Jan Gregus as their third and final designated player, the Loons continued to remake their midfield by adding Alonso.
United Sporting Director Manny Lagos called the two transactions an effort to add “some quality pieces” to a team that allowed far too many goals — 71 last season — and missed the playoffs in each of its first two MLS seasons.
Its starting-lineup makeover underway with defense in mind, United likely will be seeking a starting goalkeeper and right defensive back before the season opener on March 2 at Vancouver.
Lagos called Alonso “another addition to a part of the field where we want to add a lot of grit.” United coach Adrian Heath, in a team statement announcing the move, called him one of the league’s “best, most competitive and tenacious” defensive midfielders.
“He’s a warrior, a battler,” Lagos said. “He’s a leader who certainly has shown his worth in the league for many years and somebody who has the kind of leadership we’re looking for.”
To acquire him, the Loons navigated the league’s complex salary rules. They worked with Seattle to waive Alonso so he could sign a contract with United for more than the league’s maximum salary. They then traded with Orlando to move from fourth to first in the waiver order, sending a second-round pick next year for two fourth-round picks in Friday’s SuperDraft in Chicago so they could claim Alonso.
By doing so, United now has added both Gregus and Alonso to the more defensive-minded “No. 6” midfielder position and the “No. 8,” a midfielder who plays a bit further up the field.
“Ozzie is a ‘6’ with ‘8’ tendencies,” Lagos said. “And I think Gregus is kind of an ‘8’ with ‘6’ tendencies. They complement each other really well.”
Seattle allowed a player who helped it win the 2016 MLS Cup to leave as a free agent. Lagos said Alonso’s age must be both acknowledged and appreciated.
“With that comes great experience and the ability to lead that will enhance our team,” Lagos said. “But at the same time when you get an older player, there’s an age effect. Movement and athleticism is important at the position he plays, but just as important is being smart and cerebral about where you are on the field at all times. That’s why players at older ages can play in the league for a long time.”
Alonso walked away from his Cuban national team in a Houston Walmart in 2007, defecting from his home country. He soon found his way to Charleston in the United Soccer League and then played in Seattle those 10 seasons. Lagos called Alonso “really excited” to revisit a career path that introduced him to Minnesota during his one USL season long ago.
After adding age and experience Thursday, United will focus Friday, barring trades, on four draft selections to add youth and promise. The Loons have the seventh pick in the first round. In the second round they have the 31st overall pick, followed by the two fourth-round picks acquired from Orlando City.
Their SuperDraft first-round picks brought UCLA’s Abu Danladi first overall in 2017 and Indiana’s Mason Toye in 2018. This time, the possibilities include North Carolina defender John Nelson, Maryland goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair or VCU midfielder Siad Haji if he should slide.
“We’re in a really good place where we just have to take the player we feel is the best fit for our team,” Lagos said.
The Loons will begin training Jan. 21 in Blaine.