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“I like a good pass” — Osvaldo Alonso as undercover MLS MVP

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In a world focused on non-traditional statistics, the most complete and valuable player in this Major League Soccer season is Osvaldo Alonso.

It’s a simple enough statement that may seem shocking, considering the work and prowess of those who have staked claims to the Landon Donovan MVP Award.

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Sebastian Giovinco and David Villa possess electric skill sets and otherworldly production, and are instant all-timers for the nascent league. Next, take the historic traditional numbers posted by the Red Bulls’ Sacha Kljestan and Bradley Wright-Phillips, eye-popping stuff.

Then there’s Alonso.

The 31-year-old Seattle Sounders midfielder wasn’t going to get an MVP nod thanks to the weight given to goals and assists (in every league around the globe), but he should be a household name by now.

Not all of that is down to statistics. Alonso has been perhaps the perfect mate for Michael Bradley in the United States men’s national team’s midfield, but has not been given the chance despite earning citizenship in 2012. Alonso defected from Cuba in 2007 after earning 16 caps for the national team, and the island nation has not granted his request for a release (He doesn’t believe it will ever come, either).

As much as a green card should have played a role in his stardom, perhaps it’s yellow and red cards that cost him votes from around the league. Alonso is a midfield menace who plays as if winning the ball grants him access to oxygen.

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FC Dallas forward Maximiliano Urruti (37) and Seattle Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso (6) compete for a ball along the sidelines during the first half of an MLS soccer western conference semifinal playoff match Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016 in Frisco, Texas. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)
(AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)

“My position is different than the forward, but I try to play for me and for the team,” Alonso said.

“My type of game is keeping the ball and is made on winning the ball. I don’t score a lot of goals or do a lot of assists, but I try to provide the rest of my team. We’ve got a lot of players who can score a lot of goals and I’m very happy for them. I’m doing the job the coach told me to do, and I’m very happy to win that way.”

Alonso keeps the ball better than anyone in MLS, at least this season. His 91 percent pass accuracy was only met by Darlington Nagbe, and Alonso completed 20 percent more of his passes than his Cascadia Cup rival. That 60 percent completion mark was also the best in the league.

Rather than risk boredom with a bevy of further stats on tackles, interventions, and passing, let’s look at a chart that sums up his performance from advanced stats site Squawka. Amongst players who made more than 20 appearances this season, Alonso is second only to Giovinco in performance score (both are not MVP finalists, which is inexcusable).

Seattle Sounders Squawka.com
Squawka.com

What’s worth noting, though, is how many other members of the Top Ten earned their keep with a heavy contribution from one area. Alonso is in double digits in all three categories: 27th in defense, 48th in offense, first (by far) in possession.

That last number matters a lot to the MVP suggestion, too. Alonso’s 13.5 score is more than five points better than the closest competitor (Real Salt Lake’s Javier Morales).

To sum it up in a colloquial fashion, Alonso is a boss. Given his hard-nosed demeanor, you might think he loves digging into opponents and craves contact. That’s not necessarily wrong, but his answer to the question of what gives him the most joy is interesting.

“For me, I like a good pass. Take the ball from the offense and open the game from the back. But everything I do, I like to do.”

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The love for a game and seeking out a better future for himself is what gave him the impetus to risk it all in defecting from Cuba, famously slipping away from his national teammates on a stop to an American big box store a decade ago.

“It was tough when I came here to make a decision because in that time, it was not sure if I would come back or see my family again,” Alonso said. “I’m so lucky that I did that and I play soccer because not everybody can make that decision to leave behind family, friends, everything in Cuba and come to a new country for a game.”

It’s allowed him to start and raise a family in his new country, one in which he wants to do little else besides play soccer and spend time with his family.

CHESTER, PA - SEPTEMBER 16: Midfielder Osvaldo Alonso #6 of the Seattle Sounders FC heads the ball over forward Sebastien Le Toux #11 of the Philadelphia Union during the 2014 U.S. Open Cup Final at PPL Park on September 16, 2014 in Chester, Pennsylvania. The Sounders won 3-1. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
(Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

Alonso’s immigrant story a clear success, there have been repercussions like the aforementioned lack of a release from Cuba. Even at 31, he’s the player the United States needs right now in its MNT set-up. Alonso has spent years waiting for a response from Cuba, and fans even started a Change.org petition hoping for intervention from then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

Still, Alonso is fairly sure the door is closed, saying it’s “I don’t know but I don’t think so. It’s going to be difficult.”

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So he’ll focus on leading his upstart Seattle Sounders onward into MLS glory. Alonso is one of the few players who was thriving with the Sounders before Sigi Schmid left the club, and his stock didn’t tumble once Brian Schmetzer took the reigns. With Obafemi Martins’ sudden departure and Clint Dempsey‘s heart troubles, Alonso has underscored the adjective in “Most Valuable Player”.

He’ll take the field again in Tuesday’s first leg of the Western Conference final, battling with Jermaine Jones and the Colorado Rapids.

“I’m very lucky to be in this team for a long time, but my main thing is to give everything I have for the team I have,” Alonso said.

Kickoff is 10 p.m. EDT.

Scott Parker’s first season as a manager ends in Fulham promotion

Fulham promotion
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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Fulham are headed back to the Premier League after just one season in the EFL Championship, and that means Scott Parker has worked something of a minor miracle in west London.

[ MORE: Promoted! Fulham back in PL after 1 season in Championship ]

Parker took on a hefty challenge when he accepted his first senior managerial job last year. Fulham were a virtual lock to be relegated from the Premier League when he was named interim boss in February, and their place in the second division had long since been confirmed by the time he was named Claudio Ranieri’s permanent successor in May. The squad was expensive, bloated and full of players who had no intention of sticking around after relegation.

Given the club’s wealth of resources relative to the rest of the Championship, promotion at the first time of asking was more an expectation than a hope at Craven Cottage. Fast-forward 15 months, and the 39-year-old has quickly proven himself the right man for the job after doing just that — taking Fulham back to the PL by way of Tuesday’s Championship promotion playoff final.

Promotion may have been sealed on Tuesday, but Parker believes it was earned over a long period of transition and self-reflection by the players, beginning when he first took the job — quotes from the BBC:

“We’ve done what we’ve done tonight, but there’s still improvement, and that’s what makes me so proud and happy.

“For all of the good players and everything you see, what makes me so happy is I see a group of players who only a year ago were struggling psychologically, didn’t have a mindset or mentality.

“I’ve driven this team every single day and what makes me proud is I stood on the touchline tonight and seen a team that represents what I’ve been saying over the last 12 months.”

Now comes the the truly difficult challenge for Parker: after winning Fulham promotion he must assemble a squad of players not only good enough to stay in the PL, but also one full of individuals who want to be at his club and not simply any club that just so happens to be in England’s top division.

Promoted! Fulham back in PL after 1 season in Championship

Championship promotion playoff final
Photo credit: @FulhamFC
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Fulham are headed back to the Premier League after claiming west London derby delight at the expense of local rivals Brentford in Tuesday’s Championship promotion playoff final at Wembley Stadium.

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It was an incredibly cagey affair — as the Championship promotion playoff final tends to be — that saw the two sides combine for just 17 shots (four on target) through 90 minutes of regular time. In the end, it was the most unlikely of restarts halfway through extra time that sent the Cottagers on their way.

Brentford were nearly the architects of their own downfall early in the first half. FirstIt was a poor back pass from Henrik Dalsgaard that left David Raya in worlds of trouble in the 10th minute, though Fulham were unable to find a proper chance amid the chaos inside Brentford’s box.

Fulham were perhaps fortunate not to go a man down in the 29th minute, when Harrison Reed slid through Christian Norgaard and put studs into the Dane’s ankle. Reed came over top of the ball in a 50-50 challenge and, despite first making contact with the ball, came in with borderline excessive force and in a reckless fashion. Nonetheless, only a yellow card for the on-loan Southampton youngster.

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The start of the second half looked like more of the same from the first half: Fulham with an early chance and Brentford scrambling to stay level. Neeskens Kebano curled a free kick around the wall in the 48th minute, likely beating Raya if it was on frame, but only managed to rippled the outside netting.

Championship Golden Boot runner-up (25 goals) Ollie Watkins had the final scoring chance of regular time in the 70th minute as he fired from the edge of Fulham’s penalty area, but Marek Rodak was able to comfortably palm the ball over the crossbar. Still, the first threatening signs of life from the Bees.

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The decisive moment finally arrived in the 105th minute, and it came from absolutely nothing — less than nothing, one might credibly argue. Joe Bryan was tasked with restarting play following a foul roughly 50 yards from goal. Rather than lofting the ball high and to the back post, as Raya so clearly expected him to do, Bryan wrapped his left foot around the ball and whipped it toward the near post — as “near” as it can be from 50-plus yards. Raya was painfully slow to recognize the shot and tried to scramble across the face of goal, but never had a chance of getting anywhere near the ball.

Bryan doubled Fulham’s lead in the 117th minute. It was fast and fluid one-two atop Brentford’s penalty area and the left back tucked it away to seal promotion back to the top flight, and it turned out to be hugely necessary after Dalsgaard poked home a late consolation goal for the Bees with virtually the last kick of the game.

Fulham spent the 2018-19 season in the Premier League but finished with just 26 points in 19th place and were relegated back to the Championship after one season. Only time will tell if they’re able to stay in the top division this time, or if they’re a full-time yo-yo club.

Transfer confirmed: Ferran Torres to Man City for $26 million

Ferran Torres to Man City
Photo credit: Man City
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Reports sending Valencia youngster Ferran Torres to Man City have been burning red-hot over the last 24 hours.

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Man City confirmed their capture of the 20-year-old — one of the brightest prospects in all of Europe — on Tuesday.

Torres, who came through the Valencia academy, tallied six goals and seven assists in 43 appearances (all competitions), including two of each in the Champions League, for Valencia this season.

He broke into Valencia’s first team back in November of 2017, at the age of 17, before establishing himself as a regular over the last two seasons.

[ MORE: Man United, Dortmund in talks over $140 million Sancho transfer ]

Reports out of the UK claim it will reportedly cost just $26 million to bring Ferran Torres to Man City, plus possible add-ons, as he had just one year remaining on his contact with Valencia. Torres reportedly met with City sporting director Txiki Begiristain earlier on Tuesday, adding further fuel to the fire that a move was imminent.

Torres seems an obvious replacement for recently departed winger Leroy Sane. He’ll join Raheem Sterling as one of only two natural wingers in Pep Guardiola’s squad, offering more tactical flexibility — not to mention, width — after City were fairly limited in the wide areas during the 2019-20 season.

Championship playoff final: How to watch, start time, odds, prediction

Brentford - Fulham
Photo byJacques Feeney/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images
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Fulham – Brentford: Team news is in with the two West London sides set to do battle for a place in the Premier League in the Football League Championship promotion playoff final at Wembley Stadium.

We can hardly wait to find out who’ll claim the 20th berth in the 2020-21 Premier League season in the richest game on earth.

[ MORE: Predictions, Odds for Europe ]

Kickoff is at 2:45 pm ET Tuesday at Wembley Stadium.

Team news


Key players

Fulham leading scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic’s 26 goals were the joint-most in the Championship and more than three times as many as Tom Cairney, second amongst the Cottagers. He’s healthy for the first time after missing the semis with a hamstring injury.

Brentford’s Ollie Watkins scored the same amount of goals as Mitrovic, tying for the league lead, and he’s joined by Said Benrahma’s 17 goals (fifth in the league) and Bryan Mbeumo (eighth). The latter have combined for 16 assists, too. The Bees can sting.

Their seasons

Brentford won a even-straight league games to surge into the mix for automatic promotion but lost their last two, meeting Fulham on 81 points.

As for the Cottagers, Fulham finished the season on a seven-match unbeaten run which included five wins

Their playoffs

Brentford overcame a 1-0 first-leg deficit to oust Swansea City in the semifinal, while Fulham’s first leg win was enough to outlast Cardiff City’s strong second leg in their semi.

Odds and ends

Brentford beat Fulham twice, 1-0 at Griffin Park and 2-0 at Craven Cottage.

The Bees are favored to win the match at +108 odds, while Fulham carries +265 odds of a win.

Prediction

Mitrovic’s availability is huge for a Fulham side hoping to break down the league’s second-stingiest defense. Brentford feels like it’s the superior side but Fulham has been here and Cairney even scored the goal to beat Aston Villa in the 2017-18 playoff final. That experience is an X-factor, but we’ll still call Brentford 2-1 winners.

How to watch Fulham – Brentford

Kickoff: 2:45 pm ET Tuesday
Stream: ESPN+