Who can replace Ozzie Alonso?
The question has been at the top of everyone’s mind for the better part of the last two years, as the veteran defensive midfielder’s presence has helped propel Minnesota United FC from MLS laughingstock to one of the top teams in the Western Conference.
With a 3-2 Western Conference Final loss to the Seattle Sounders, Alonso’s former club, still fresh on the mind — and a contact option that needed to be picked up by the end of Tuesday in order for the 35-year-old to remain in a Minnesota uniform — the reality is setting in: Alonso may have played his last game as a Loon.
Heath and Co. have been preparing for this potential moment since “Ozzie” arrived ahead of the 2019 season. During that year’s SuperDraft, the Loons selected Hassani Dotson, who they immediately began grooming to be the heir to the No. 6 throne.
Since his debut, however, Dotson has arguably shown greater value as a flex option, who can provide quality both in the midfield and on the right side of Minnesota’s backline.
The most recent offseason saw United add Jacori Hayes from FC Dallas and Marlon Hairston in the trade that sent former DP Darwin Quintero to Houston. Both have proven to be capable backup or spot-start options, especially during a condensed, pandemic-struck season.
Still, the back-to-back top four finishers in the West stand without a true, worthy replacement who can fill Alonso’s shoes, but that doesn’t mean one isn’t on the way.
According to The Athletic‘s Sam Stejskal and Paul Tenorio, Minnesota is set to acquire Wil Trapp from Inter Miami. Trapp, a defensive midfielder with nearly 200 MLS starts under his belt for both Miami and the Columbus Crew, certainly isn’t joining the Loons to come off the bench.
In the event that the rumored signing becomes official after the transfer window opens next Wednesday, the 27-year-old brings experience and durability to a squad that so heavily relies on quality from the No. 6 position.
As previously stated, Trapp is a seasoned veteran in MLS. Before joining Inter Miami before their inaugural season in the league, he spent seven seasons with the Columbus Crew, which also happens to be the midfielder’s hometown. In addition to the 195 times he’s been selected to a starting lineup, Trapp was named U.S. Soccer Young Male Athlete of the Year in 2013 and an MLS All-Star in 2016, not to mention his 18 appearances for the U.S. Men’s National Team.
Even after hosting a playoff game for the second straight season and finishing one win away from reaching MLS Cup, Minnesota could have achieved even greater heights in 2020 if their veteran midfielder had been able to stay on the field consistently.
Alonso played in just 10 matches in 2020, starting nine. The Cuban fought multiple nagging injuries into the playoffs and struggled to string enough games together to get back to full fitness.
Consistency is a must from whoever fills that defensive midfield slot and Trapp has shown that in spades during his pro career. In his 16 starts this past season, Trapp stayed on the field for at least 68 minutes in each, and that reliability is something Mark Watson and the United brass will be looking for in their next No. 6.
It’s no coincidence that Minnesota’s upward trajectory came shortly after acquiring Alonso, and his legacy will live on in Loons history.
But as careers do, Ozzie’s is reaching the tail-end, and while it may be uncomfortable moving on from a player so beloved, it’s one of the difficult decisions teams face as they take steps toward consistent success.
The most difficult portion of that decision, though, may not be the parting of the former player, but rather who to choose to take his place. If Trapp is indeed taking his talents from south beach to the bold north, his pedigree of consistency and durability would make for a great fit, and ultimately a great replacement for one of the best defensive midfielders this league has ever seen.