The Seattle Sounders had an incredible 2011 season, churning out win after win. They picked up yet another U.S. Open Cup title and thrived in CONCACAF Champions League play. Much of that success could be attributed to Osvaldo Alonso, the Sounders' stalwart in the defensive midfield. In fact, he was so good that he garnered consideration for MLS MVP, an award that usually goes to out-and-out attacking players.
As the Sounders got to the playoffs they were confident in their ability to win MLS Cup, partly because they thought that the middle of the field would be theirs. Alonso would continue to boss the center of the pitch, just as he did all regular season. Win the center of the pitch, let Fredy Montero do the work up front and the defense will take care of itself. Then they played the first leg of their conference semifinal tie against Real Salt Lake and were just blown off the pitch.
Salt Lake's domination was a big surprise to Seattle and the biggest surprise was Alonso's play. In short, he was dreadful. He was routinely out of position, he missed tackles and he gave the ball away with regularity. He was the complete opposite of the player that we saw in the regular season. Javier Morales had the time and space to do whatever he wanted and he pulled the string on the Salt Lake attack. Amazingly, Alonso was almost invisible for stretches, which is saying something for a midfielder who has earned the nickname "Honey Badger."
Now the Sounders return home needing to erase a three-goal deficit. It's do-able, but unlikely. If they are to pull it off, they will need an extraordinary performance from Alonso. He can't look at all like the player he was in the first leg. He'll have to be the player we saw all regular season, if not better.