When four-time MLS All-Star Ozzie Alonso left Seattle after 10 successful seasons there, he told United Sporting Director Manny Lagos he was coming to Minnesota to win.
After two seasons when the Loons allowed far too many goals, didn’t sniff the playoffs and seldom won on the road, United is 2-0 after season-opening victories at Vancouver and San Jose.
United coach Adrian Heath considers that no coincidence.
The Loons acquired Alonso because Heath and Lagos considered him, even at age 33, still one of the league’s best defensive midfielders. It’s an opinion unchanged with their team headed to Los Angeles to play the Galaxy on Saturday.
Now the objective is to keep Alonso healthy for another 32 regular-season games and — dare it be said — the playoffs.
United staff consulted with Seattle personnel on Alonso’s training in recent seasons intended to keep on the field a veteran who played 25, 26 and 22 games in three of the past four seasons. Last season, a troublesome hamstring sidelined him two different times early.
“The most important thing is to keep him healthy and fresh,” Heath said. “When you’ve got the miles on that he has because of the way he plays — he covers so much distance and he has been doing it for a long, long time — at times you let him govern himself.”
If that means needing a training day off because he’s tired, stiff or sore — particularly after he plays on artificial turf — then so be it.
Although if it’s up to Alonso …
“I don’t feel age,” he said. “I don’t feel 33. I feel younger. If you can do everything on the field, it’s the experience [that matters].”
He was one of five players — all of them now 28 or older — acquired over the winter to bring experience and know-how to a team that lacked resolve, poise and, yes, enough talent its first two MLS seasons.
Alonso has teamed up with experienced Slovakia national team member Jan Gregus, 28, in a two-man midfield. That pairing is one of many reasons United not only is undefeated but also left San Jose with a 3-0 victory, its first MLS-era road shutout.
Alonso was acquired after Seattle decided not to re-sign one of its original players — a designated one at that — and the two teams negotiated so United could claim him on waivers.
“That little tandem of the two of them, I don’t think it’s coincidence we dominated possession in both games,” said Heath, whose team didn’t do so statistically Saturday but it felt like it. “They’re always in good spots to receive the ball. They understand when you play slowly. They understand when to play quick. They’re always in good spots when the ball turns over. They’re doing things that a lot of people will not see, just from being in the right spots.”
Heath said he intends to play Alonso the entire game every time out. The managing of his body and his health will come in the days leading to the game.
“People like him, they don’t like missing training,” Heath said. “But we’ll do whatever we feel necessary to get him in the right physical condition to play the 90 [minutes] every week. Maintenance during the week. Maybe he misses one or two days. But we’ll manage him. The games will dictate what we do with him.”
Heath acknowledged all that managing will be done with the playoffs in mind.
“We’ll make sure he’s in the best physical condition for that,” Heath said, “but we’ve got a long way to go for the moment.”
If they succeed, Alonso will play 34 regular-season games at 33.
“Age is a number, I feel great,” Alonso said. “I have good training. Take care of yourself: eat, rest and sleep and be ready for the games.”