A career spanning 17 years, two countries and five teams, Osvaldo “Ozzie” Alonso, has been a steady force in soccer. As a veteran in Major League Soccer, Alonso is not new to the ups and downs of the sport, but this season proved to be one that tested him in new ways.
After signing with the club in December 2021, Alonso was ready for his first season with Atlanta United. In January, the Cuban midfielder traveled with the team to Mexico for the preseason. There, Atlanta United faced three teams from Mexico’s Liga MX and Liga de Expansión MX. During the trip, Alonso had the opportunity to meet his fellow teammates and get a feel for the upcoming season.
“Yes, everything started well,” Alonso shared. “We did the preseason in Mexico, everything went well. The goals were to win all the titles.”
That goal was put into motion during the home opener on February 27 against Sporting Kansas City in front of a full Mercedes-Benz Stadium. This match was Alonso’s first start with the 5-Stripes, and the season looked promising. During the match, Luiz Araújo scored the first goal of the season, but had to be subbed off due to a hamstring injury. While the team was able to secure a win, Araújo’s was the first of a series of unfortunate injuries for the team.
Three matches after the home opener, Alonso also experienced an injury of his own. During the match against D.C. United on April 2, Alonso suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee. The midfielder shared that he’s never experienced an injury of this kind in his career, and it was a difficult moment for him.
“Yes, it was in a play in the match against D.C.,” Alonso said. “It's part of soccer. The player hit me on the knee, and I felt a strong pain, after they did the tests, and it was confirmed that I had torn my ACL. It was a sad, complicated moment, a very difficult moment because I hadn’t experienced an injury like that. It took a long time to recover but there were many people next to me supporting me, up until now. I try to see things in a positive way. I’m trying to recover and be ready for the next year.”
Atlanta United won three out of the four games matches that Alonso participated in. When Ozzie was signed to the team, head coach Gonzalo Pineda hoped his experience would help guide a young team. Positionally as a midfielder, Alonso had the opportunity to communicate easily with the back line and the forwards, and his veteran presence was an asset to the team.
“The role that characterizes me is to be there on the field giving my best, supporting my teammates, trying to be a leader to the pitch,” Alonso shared. “In the time that I was able to play, I gave my best and I was happy for the part that I had in those matches that I was able to enjoy.”
After his injury, Alonso wanted to continue supporting his teammates the best way he could. The midfielder took his leadership role off the pitch and continued to support the team in the locker room, training and before matches. This role Alonso took seriously, especially because the team was experiencing a difficult season with constant injuries and changes.
“Yes, I always wanted to be with them,” Alonso said. “It doesn't matter if you're injured or not, it's always good to be with the team, motivating them in difficult moments, in good moments.”
“The coaches talked to me and told me to be close to the team even if I was injured, and I was always there, always supporting them off the pitch, but giving them the positive energy so that the team could move forward.”
For Alonso, it was important to be there for his teammates through this difficult season, understanding the mental impact a series of injuries can have on a team. Alonso had just finished getting out of his ACL surgery when he saw goalkeeper Brad Guzan tear his Achilles tendon during the April 16 match against FC Cincinnati.
“Although people don't show it, we feel our teammates’ injuries,” Alonso said. “After I got out of surgery, I saw the match where Brad got injured. I felt so sad because an injury of that magnitude is always complicated. Then came Josef and then several more injuries that affected the team. But like I said, it's part of soccer. I think psychologically it did affect us because although we don't show it people think about those moments where their teammates got injured and no one wants to get injured. It's complicated, but we're all healing and ready to be 100% for next season.”
What helped Alonso through the difficult season was his mentality. When reflecting on the season, Alonso didn’t like to focus on the past but rather what’s to come. Looking forward to being on the pitch is what kept the midfielder positive in tough moments.
“Personally, I hope to be on the pitch again,” Alonso said. “That's my main goal. What comes after totally depends on me, but I want to be 100 percent physically, mentally and to be with the team again. The team's goals are the same; to win all tournaments that come our way, to always give the best that we can on the pitch and to be united.”