When Xabi Alonso joined Major League Soccer side Los Angeles Galaxy last year, it was only natural he would skip Spain’s 2018 World Cup warm-up matches to coach Luis Enrique at Real Madrid.
But when it was announced the Galaxy had a short training camp until the start of the MLS season, Alonso decided the break was beneficial enough and took advantage of it.
“You could say it was a bit strange not being with the Spanish national team when we’re preparing for a World Cup,” said Alonso, who says playing for Spain is “like a lifetime goal.”
Real Madrid plays Valencia in a friendly Friday at the 68,000-seat Alamodome in San Antonio. Alonso said the European champion chose to hold the game in the United States as a way to increase the visibility of its programs.
Alonso, 34, who is in his second MLS season, says it’s “definitely strange” playing on U.S. soil, but he’s enjoyed how the world’s top soccer league has grown.
In 2012, MLS was the seventh-most popular soccer league in the United States, according to a YouGov/BrandIndex survey conducted in mid-September. In 2015, that number had climbed to third.
In Alonso’s 18-season career, he’s played in Spain’s Primera Liga, Germany’s Bundesliga, England’s Premier League and MLS. Alonso left Real Madrid in 2014 and returned to Arsenal before signing with Los Angeles in 2015.
While Alonso has lived and played in many places during his career, Los Angeles is “unique.” He says his wife always calls it “the biggest city,” and the Galaxy has an estimated $550 million of corporate sponsorships.
Alonso has been one of the Galaxy’s top players during the first two months of this season, which is why he agreed to miss the team’s games with Spain.
“It’s something that’s natural for an athlete to understand and look forward to,” Alonso said. “Real Madrid wanted to make sure there was no conflict with my role with the national team.”
Alonso said playing for Real Madrid and Barcelona while with the national team brings constant media attention and a scarcity of quality training sessions.
Luis Enrique said Alonso told him he wanted to play the Galaxy, especially after the Galaxy hired Arena, who was a major influence on Alonso in Spain. Arena made Alonso captain during his time with Real Madrid and, more recently, Liverpool.
“Xabi was very happy with our ability to work with David and seeing the direction that David has taken over the first team and the club,” said Enrique, who was an assistant coach in Los Angeles. “He’s going through a very important year in his career, and we’re going to see how the season unfolds with him.”
Edgar Davila, a former MLS writer for GMA Sports in Los Angeles, became friends with Alonso when the forward visited his family’s South Los Angeles restaurant.
Davila said he was impressed with Alonso and his ability to be “a symbol” for the Galaxy’s move to a larger stadium at StubHub Center this season.
“The fact that he’s actually still an active player … in football culture here in Los Angeles and the U.S. is very positive,” Davila said. “A lot of players don’t come into Los Angeles with huge fan bases.”
Juan Carlos Farfan, former Real Madrid midfielder who is now part of the Galaxy coaching staff, said Alonso has added a sense of confidence to the team and his teammates in the locker room.
“When I first arrived in America, we started with a team where there was a lot of uncertainty and a lot of pressure because of what was going on in the locker room,” Farfan said. “Now he has this experience that allows him to analyze things and know how to adapt to a new situation.”