There have been some wonderful players over the 25-year history of MLS, but who ranks in the top five central midfielders of all-time?
Here at MLS Multiplex, we have gone back through the statistics, the awards won, the games played, the goals scored and the shutouts made to work out who we think the best five players in the seven major positions are in Major League Soccer history.
We have gone through the goalkeepers, full-backs and centre-backs already, and we will move on to the attacking midfielders, wingers and strikers in the days to come, but this piece focuses on the central midfielders.
Like several positional groups in this series, there will be some controversy and some talk about which position certain players may be placed into. For instance, Carlos Bocanegra played for prolonged periods both at centre-back and full-back across his career in MLS, and therefore he could have gone into either category. For us, he went into the full-back’s column.
The likes of Shalrie Joseph, who made it into the MLS Best XI four times, two-time MLS Cup winner Will Johnson and 1998 MLS Rookie of the Year Ben Olsen all came close to making it into our top five. However, the men who did make it have a combined three MVP awards, 12 nominations to the Best XI, and plenty of MLS Cup titles to their name. Who makes it in, though?
5. Osvaldo Alonso
Taking the first spot on our list of the best-ever central midfielders is the only man who still plies his trade in the league, Minnesota United’s Osvaldo Alonso.
Before making his debut in Major League Soccer in 2009, the Cuban midfielder had already been a professional footballer for four years, starting his career with Pinar del Rio in his home nation. He made the move to the United States ahead of the 2008 season and spent a year with Charleston Battery, where he was named USL-1 Rookie of the Year. Alonso also played 17 times for Cuba before defecting to the United States in late 2007.
MLS Career & Honours:
- Seattle Sounders (2009-2018)
- Minnesota United (2019-)
- MLS Best XI – 2012
- MLS Cup – 2016
- Supporters’ Shield – 2014
- U.S. Open Cup – 2009, 2010, 2011, 2014
The midfielder’s MLS career started in 2009, as he became part of the initial Seattle Sounders side, as the franchise entered its first season as an expansion side into the league. It was a successful one for the Rave Green, as they lifted the U.S. Open Cup in their first campaign, beating D.C. United in the final at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.
The club then went on to win the country’s domestic cup competition for the next two years as well to make it three in a row from their inception into the league. The Sounders defeated Columbus Crew in 2010, before then downing Chicago Fire in the final in 2011, with Alonso being named man of the match, as he netted the late insurance goal to make the score 2-0.
The 2012 season was one of Alonso’s best as an individual, as he started all 30 regular-season matches he played in, and he was named to the MLS Best XI for the first time in his career, becoming the first outfield player from the Sounders to be named into the prestigious squad for three seasons, with Freddie Ljungberg being named into it in 2009.
The Sounders reached the final of the U.S. Open Cup for the fourth consecutive season but unfortunately lost out to Sporting Kansas City. They also reached the Western Conference Finals but lost out to the eventual champions LA Galaxy 4-2 on aggregate.
After a slight drop-off in his performances in 2013, the Cuban midfielder bounced back in the 2014 campaign, starting all but one regular-season clash for Seattle. Although he was unable to find the back of the net for the second season in a row, Alonso was a key part of their success, as the Rave Green took the Supporters’ Shield and the U.S. Open Cup. The domestic cup victory was their fourth in just seven seasons since their inception into the league, as they downed Philadelphia Union 3-1, after 120 minutes of action.
Two years later, and the Sounders finally got their hands on the MLS Cup title they had been after since coming into the league in 2009. Alonso had his best season in Major League Soccer, statistically, scoring three times and creating four assists in his 32 regular-season matches, before starting all six post-season matches en route to the title.
The Cuban midfielder had missed games through injury in the last two playoff runs for Seattle, and it looked like the same would happen again, as he picked up an injury during the club’s Western Conference final clash against Colorado. However, Alonso had a total of eight pain-killing injections, four before the game and four at half-time, to get through the 120 minute battle against Toronto FC. He captained the side in the final, as the Sounders defeated the Canadian side on penalties 5-4, with Alonso lifting the trophy at the end of the match.
A year later, and Seattle would advance through to another MLS Cup final, where they would be up against Toronto once more. However, the 2017 final went the way of the Canadian side. Alonso would finish his Seattle Career following the conclusion of the 2008 campaign, having played over 275 times for the Rave Green during the regular-season, along with a further 25 post-season appearances to his name.
Before the 2019 season, the Cuban made the move to Minnesota United, leaving Seattle with none of their original players from a decade earlier. Alonso scored the first goal at the Loons new stadium, Allianz Field, in their home opener in April that year. He was also a key part of getting the franchise into the post-season for the first time in their short history, as the side finished 4th in the Western Conference.
To date, Alonso has played more than 300 regular-season matches in Major League Soccer, scoring twelve times and recording 25 assists. He has 26 post-season games to his name as well, including both Minnesota’s and Seattle’s first-ever matches in the MLS Cup playoffs. At 34-years-old, the Cuban midfielder still has plenty in the tank for the Loons, whenever play restarts in MLS.