Atlanta United ticked off the first big part of their Christmas wishlist with the signing of free agent Osvaldo Alonso.
The 36-year-old midfielder has been without a club since leaving Minnesota United at the end of the 2021 campaign and has signed with the Five Stripes on a one-year deal with an option through 2023.
“We’re pleased Ozzie has chosen to sign with us in free agency,” Atlanta United vice president and technical director Carlos Bocanegra said in a press release. “A proven leader, Ozzie is one of the most respected and decorated players in our league. His veteran presence on the field and in the locker room will be a great addition for our club.”
Bocanegra is right. Over the last 13 seasons, Alonso has notched up 336 MLS regular-season appearances and another 30 in the Playoffs. He's never missed a post-season during that time, and has picked up MLS Cup and Supporters' Shield winners' medals, as well as four US Open Cup titles.
It's not like 'Ozzie' has just been along for the ride in those successes either. The former Cuba international has been named in the MLS All-Star team on four separate occasions, while he made the MLS Best XI in 2012.
This is the sort of experience that Atlanta United haven't just lacked in the last couple of years, but have actively parted ways with. Their MLS Cup-winning side of 2018 has been broken up, with veteran leaders like Michael Parkhurst and Jeff Larentowicz retiring, while proven, seasoned winners like Darlington Nagbe and Julian Gressel have been sold.
There is a lot of talent on this roster, but between Brad Guzan and Josef Martinez at both ends of the pitch, leaders are in short supply. For Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda to bring in a player he both played alongside and guided as an assistant during his Seattle Sounders days feels like a smart move, putting his generals in place.
Of course, Alonso won't just be signed for intangibles like leadership and experience. Just last season, the midfielder was first among Minnesota United for recoveries per 90 minutes (12.6), and third for blocks per 90 (1.72). He's a formidable defensive presence.
On the ball, he was even more impressive. Alonso was first among Loons players for completed passes per 90 (56.6), third for ball carries (50.3), and fourth for progressive passes (5.22).
Atlanta United have some talented midfielders but none as well-rounded as Alonso. Santiago Sosa is a silky passer, but can often go sideways a little too often and isn't the strongest defensively. Matheus Rossetto is secure on the ball but not progressive enough. A fully-fit Emerson Hyndman has a great engine but isn't as technically gifted as those around him. Franco Ibarra is talented, but incredibly raw. The list goes on.
Alonso will be intimately familiar with how Pineda likes his teams to play and can even help some of the above names both adjust to that, and improve their individual games. Regardless of how much or how little he actually plays, there is real value on offer here.
This certainly won't be the last move Atlanta United make this off-season. It's not even likely to be the most eye-catching. But the capture of Ozzie Alonso might just be the first step toward turning this club back into serious silverware contenders.