WASHINGTON — To describe Xabi Alonso as a hero to DC United is like comparing Mona Lisa to R2D2. That Alonso came from Madrid to MLS is no surprise. That he joined only after a season in Serie A was unexpected.
At 36, Alonso returned to a city where he spent seven years (2001-2009) at Dupont Circle. As the face of the United program, Alonso comes in in a moment when the team could use a veteran presence.
The most fitting reunion for Alonso is with Sporting.
With Sporting playing for the U.S. in the 2018 World Cup, Alonso replaced Tony Meola, the MLS MVP in 2004, and Sporting ran wild with a squad featuring Keane, Omar Gonzalez, Dax McCarty and a young Dwyane Wade.
“They’re a great group of guys that we’re going to work with and I think as a coach you go to your best players on the best teams,” Mike Petke said. “So I think this is a great fit for us.
“All I can remember of Xabi is the thing that I saw at the beginning of the season with United, that fans were waiting for him to finally come and make his way into the game.
“He’s very competitive and skilled. I think that’s important for this type of game, where you’re playing against big guys like Tony and Eddie. So these are the type of players I was looking for to come into our squad. I just wanted to be a part of something great. It makes it a lot more easier that we have him in our first game of the season.”
Alonso signed a two-year deal. He won’t play in MLS until June — after the Champions League final, as he will play with Spain against Portugal and Morocco. The 35-year-old made the 12th-most appearances in MLS history in the past eight seasons. It’s obvious that he wants to be in a place where he feels important.
“My idea is always to play the most games that I can possibly,” Alonso said in a video message to fans. “At this point of my career, I love the way that it works. It’s a mix between sport and business. Football is for me, as it always was, one of the most amazing things to do. And I’m grateful for the fans in MLS and for the opportunity that they’ve given me. I’m coming back to DC because it’s where I grew up playing football. It’s a place where I can help DC and I’m so excited to come back and play in America.”
United CEO Kevin Payne declined to disclose an approximate value for Alonso’s deal. The total dollar value would be inflated with a bit of Ronaldo, Beckham or even Hazard fatigue, but the deal is a clear benefit for United.
“We look forward to having him back with us and to supporting him,” Petke said. “Just to understand what he means to the community, what he means to the club, what he means to this organization for him coming back, we’re happy to have him.”
Alonso’s return likely sets up a tougher schedule for Sporting. Rather than have the first two games at home, Sporting travels to Houston and Costa Rica to face San Jose and New York City in consecutive games. New York and Tijuana could be on deck in MLS action during UEFA Champions League group matches.
MLS is no stranger to former Real Madrid players, despite Alonso’s move to Europe. The likes of Alvaro Negredo, Kaká, Mariano, Figo, Sergio Ramos, Sami Khedira, Luis Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Sergio Ramos, Claude Makelele, Christiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso, Raul, Luis Figo, Luis Garcia, Raúl, José Bosingwa, Javier Mascherano, Fernando Hierro, Enzo Perez, Gianluca Zambrotta, Sergio Ramos, Bienvenido Garcia and Fábio Coentrão will all compete on American fields this season.
MLS games against Bayern Munich, CSKA Moscow, L.A. Galaxy, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Monaco, and AC Milan are also on the schedule. Perhaps they’ll be joined by Grafite, Di Santo, Khedira, and David Villa.