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June 19, 2012 at 2:07 PM

Osvaldo Alonso becomes a U.S. citizen, holds out hope for U.S. men’s national team

alonso citizen.jpgPhoto credit: Dean Rutz, The Seattle Times

It’s been five years since Osvaldo Alonso defected from Cuba and, as a result, it’s been equally as long since he has seen many members of his family.

That, the Sounders FC midfielder hopes, will stand to change soon as he earned his U.S. citizenship last week. The 26-year-old was understandably thrilled to talk about it Tuesday after training at Starfire.

“I’m very happy for that and so proud of myself to get citizenship,” said Alonso, who described the history tests as the hardest part in the process. “I’m very happy.”

It was a shared emotion.

“I’m really happy for Ozzie,” said coach Sigi Schmid. “It opens up new doors for him and new options.”

Earning citizenship was always Alonso’s goal when he defected — leaving the Cuban national team during the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup while in a department store in Houston — and family was the main motivation. His wife, Liang, became a U.S. citizen last year.

Reuniting with relatives is “one thing I’ve waited for for a long time,” he said. “Now I’m going to start the process to bring my mom and my sister (to the United States) first. Let’s see what happens in the future.”

That last thought also applies to his national-team hopes. Alonso played two games for Cuba in the 2007 Gold Cup, which would normally prevent him from switches allegiances to the U.S.

But the case might not be closed as the midfielder said his agent is looking into the situation and has sent an inquiry to FIFA to look into his eligibility.

Alonso said citizenship is reward enough, but he’s holding out hope.

“I’m not allowed to play anymore with Cuba, so I think I’ll have the opportunity to play with the U.S. national team,” he said. “If the opportunity comes, it’s something I want to do. I’m very happy for that.”

Added Schmid: “I don’t know if down the line he could be an option for the U.S. national team or not, because I don’t know all the circumstances and whether FIFA would grant him the opportunity to play for the U.S. … They have to look into it. I know it’s happened before. I know Chris Armas played for Puerto Rico before he played for the U.S. and was able to switch even after he had played in some Gold Cup qualifiers.”

So with new citizenship, plans to bring the family over and prospects of playing for the USMNT, does that mean he sees his career going on in the United States for the foreseeable future?

“I don’t know. It’s hard question,” said Alonso, who will return from a two-game MLS suspension Wednesday against Kansas City. “You never know in soccer. You have to live in the moment. So if I can play here a long time or if not, we’ll see what happens in the future. My focus now is Seattle.”


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