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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.

Mexicans Abroad: Jimenez makes Wolves history; Guardado assists in Betis win

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On what was perhaps Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez’s last weekend in Europe, Raul Jimenez made it clear that he is ready to carry on the mantle as Mexico’s marquee striker in the old continent.

The 28-year-old’s double made him Wolverhampton Wanderer’s Premier League all-time leading goalscorer, surpassing Steven Fletcher‘s record of 22 goals in just 61 appearances.

Meanwhile in Spain, Andres Guardado continues to add remarkable chapters to his never-ending European photo book, recording an assist in Real Betis’ 3-0 thumping of Real Sociedad.

Here is a list of several other Mexico national team affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) outside of Mexico this weekend.


Premier League

Raul Jimenez, Wolverhampton Wanderers —  Not only did Jimenez boost his league goalscoring tally to the double digits on Saturday, but he also became Wolves’ Premier League all-time goalscorer. The Mexican is indispensable for the Midlands side – well worth the club-record $33-million investment.

La Liga

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Sevilla — Chicharito did not make the trip with Sevilla to the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday. On Friday, Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl reported that Los Angeles Galaxy have signed the 31-year-old. An official announcement from the MLS side is expected in the coming days.

Hector Herrera, Atletico Madrid — Herrera started and played 43 minutes in Los Colchoneros’ rare, 2-0 loss to Eibar on Saturday. Atletico are now eight points behind leaders Barcelona and second-best Real Madrid.

Andres Guardado, Real Betis —  Guardado played all 90 minutes and recorded an assist in Betis’ trashing of Real Sociedad. The midfielder also earned a yellow card in the 23rd minute.

Diego Lainez, Real Betis — The 19-year-old dressed but remained on the bench for Betis. 

Nestor Araujo, Celta Vigo — Araujo started and played 90 minutes in Celta’s 1-1 draw with Athletic Bilbao. The defender recorded 11 clearances, two interceptions, and earned a yellow card.

Serie A

Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Napoli —  As Napoli’s continues to suffer under Gennaro Gattuso, so does Chucky. The frenetic winger saw just 26 minutes of playing time in Napoli’s 2-0 loss to Fiorentina on Saturday. Gattuso, however, may be on his was out as reports indicated that he’s considering resigning after just 35 days at the helm.

Primeira Liga

Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, FC Porto — Tecatito started and played all 90 minutes in Porto’s 2-1 loss to Braga on Saturday. The Dragons trail league leaders Benfica by seven points.

Eredivisie

Erick Gutierrez, PSV Eindhoven —  Gutierrez dressed but remained on the bench for PSV on Saturday.

Edson Alvarez, Ajax — Alvarez dressed but remained on the bench for Ajax on Sunday.

Jupiler Pro League

Omar Govea, Zulte Waregem — Govea started and played 90 minutes in Zulte’s 3-0 loss to KRC Genk.

Elsewhere around the globe:

Pedro Arce, Panionios –  Panionios were inactive over the weekend.

Gerardo Ramirez Alonso, Roda JC – Ramirez Alonso and Roda JC take on Jong FC Utrecht on Monday.

Unhappy reunion for Klinsmann as Bayern beats Hertha 4-0

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BERLIN (AP) Jurgen Klinsmann endured an unhappy reunion with Bayern Munich as his former protege Thomas Muller started a 4-0 Bundesliga rout of his Hertha Berlin team.

“It was nice to see him again but of course even nicer to win,” Muller said after Sunday’s victory lifted Bayern to second place, four points behind Leipzig.

Klinsmann gave Muller the first of his so far 336 Bundesliga appearances when he brought on the then 18-year-old for the last 10 minutes of a 2-2 draw with Hamburger SV on the opening day of the 2008-09 season. Klinsmann was fired as Bayern coach in April 2009 as its title hopes faded.

But Muller has only fond memories of his mentor, who later went on to be United States coach.

“I have a special relationship with Jurgen Klinsmann. He made me a professional. I still have the mailbox message from when he called me up for the start of training with the professionals,” Muller said. “He gave me my chance to earn my spurs. He put me straight in. He was my first coach.”

Klinsmann was only cleared to face his former club on Saturday after the German soccer federation and league confirmed they received missing documents for his coaching license.

But Klinsmann, who also played for Bayern between 1995-97 and coached Germany at the 2006 World Cup, could only watch as his team was completely outplayed in the second half.

Hertha showed little initiative going forward and finally paid the price for sitting back when Muller rifled in from close range.

“The first goal opened the game,” said Klinsmann, who had been hoping to extend Hertha’s unbeaten run to five games.

The visitors thought they had another goal minutes later, but Robert Lewandowski’s goal was ruled out through VAR for heading the ball out of Rune Jarstein’s hands.

Lewandowski finally got his goal from the penalty spot in the 72nd after Lukas Klunter tugged Leon Goretzka’s arm.

“The turning point was the penalty,” said Klinsmann, who felt it was a harsh decision.

Thiago Alcantara sealed the result three minutes later with a brilliant strike in off the underside of the bar after Goretzka sent him through, and Ivan Perisic headed in Muller’s cross in the 84th.

Bayern had been missing defenders Niklas Sule, Lucas Hernandez and Javi Martinez through injury, with forward Kingsley Coman also out and midfielder Joshua Kimmich suspended. Canadian teen Alphonso Davies made his 10th consecutive league start.

Santiago Ascacibar started for his Hertha debut after his winter transfer from second-division Stuttgart. The combative Argentine is Hertha’s first signing following financier Lars Windhorst’s investment of $250 million in the club.

Also Sunday, Bayer Leverkusen won 4-1 at bottom side Paderborn to move sixth.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Ciaran Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP

La Liga roundup: Messi scores, wins game in Setien’s Barcelona debut (video)

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Barcelona’s vintage playing style in their 1-0 win over Granada highlights La Liga’s Sunday action.

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Barcelona 1-0 Granda

With a goal from Lionel Messi against an iron-willed Granada, Barcelona are back at the top of La Liga.

The win is the club’s first under Quique Setien, who debuted as the Catalans manager after replacing Ernesto Valverde.

Barcelona rolled back to the years of Pep Guardiola‘s tiki-taka, as they culminated the game with 83 percent possession and completed 1005 passes. That said, Granda – playing  with 10 men from the 69h minute on – were bulletproof until the 76th minute. Messi gently pushed the ball with his weak foot, finishing what had been a series of fluid, build-up passing.

Setien deployed a nuanced 3-4-3 variation – far from Valverde’s 4-3-3 formation that ended up costing him his job after losing to Atletico Madrid in the Super Copa semifinals.

Players like Sergio Busquets were asked about the distinct styles, but he was candidly opposed to comparing the managers and their philosophies.

“We were a solid team. We had control of the ball. They created little against us,” he told Movistar. “It’s true that we struggled when they dropped deep but, in general terms, the team played a good game.

“It’s not about comparing. Every coach has his style and his way of seeing football. You’ll see what Setien asks us to do. We’re not going to reveal it. We’re delighted with what Ernesto did and we’re delighted with Setien.”

With Real Madrid and Atletico right behind, the defending champions have a long way to go this season. They’ll have to build on the win and, more importantly, further deepen their chemistry under the ex-Real Betis boss. Integrating winter signings into the fold might present itself as a challenge, too.

But one thing is certain: Barcelona can still play like they did back in their glory days. If that sticks, a lot can happen.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Mallorca 4-1 Valencia

Real Betis 3-0 Real Sociedad

Villarreal 1-2 Espanyol

Athletic Bilbao 1-1 Celta Vigo

Serie A roundup: Ronaldo sets record with brace in Juventus win over Parma (video)

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Cristiano Ronaldo’s two-goal performance against Parma highlights Sunday’s Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Juventus 2-1 Parma

Cristiano Ronaldo scored two goals as Juventus edged visiting Parma 2-1, going four points clear of Inter Milan, who drew with Lecce on Sunday.

Ronaldo opened the scoring at Allianz Stadium in the 43rd minute and added his second in the 58th minute, extending his scoring mark to seven straight games – the first Juventus player to reach that mark since Frenchman David Trezeguet in late 2005.

With the double to count for, the Portuguese sees his overall count move up to 16 goals this season, seven behind Serie A’s leading scorer Ciro Immobile, who has put together an extraordinary season.

Surpassing the 15-goal mark, Ronaldo becomes the only player within top five European leagues to at least score 15 goals in each of the last 14 campaigns. A big boost for the 34-year-old recent form has been Paulo Dybala, who provided the assist for the match-winning goal.

After a slow start this season, questions were asked about the chemistry between Ronaldo and the Argentine. But as Juventus coach Maurizio Sarri noted after Sunday’s game, Ronaldo is unlike others: he can create a world of trouble, but manage to resolve it all on his own.

“You have a world class player who might cause you a few problems every now and then, but can also resolve 100 of them,” Sarri said about Ronaldo after Juventus’ victory. “So you have to take him into account and work around his characteristics.”

Juventus will hope Ronaldo remains on what has been his best form this season as they host AS Roma in the Coppa Italia quarterfinal on Wednesday. For Parma, the campaign that is to crack the top six resumes on Sunday against Udinese.

Elsewhere

Milan 3-2 Udinese

Lecce 1-1 Inter Milan

Brescia 2-2 Cagliari 

Bologna 1-1 Verona

Genoa 1-3 AS Roma