Efrain Alvarez LA Galaxy MLS tactical analysis
Artwork by @chapulana

As is true in nearly every case, the ethnicity of a country’s national team player pool often reflects the immigrant movements and history of its people. In the United States this is, finally and justly, becoming more and more evident in the youth player pool. Jonathan Gonzalez, Alex Mendez, Sebastian Soto, and Ulysses Llanez among others are all part of the proud contingent of Mexican-Americans that have either already chosen or will be required to choose a side in the impassioned rivalry that is Mexico vs the United States.

While Gonzalez chose the nation of his parents and has been capped twice so far for Mexico, the latter three have all – for the time being – developed their talents within the US youth system. There is one such player whose eventual decision could be more instrumental than any other: Efrain Alvarez.

Who is Efrain Alvarez?

Efrain “Efra” Alvarez was born, like many footballers in the same situation, in southern California. Growing up in a dangerous neighbourhood in Los Angeles with five siblings, Efrain’s father turned the children’s concentrations on football. Once coaches and scouts began to see something exceptional in Efrain, he signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy’s USL affiliate, LA Galaxy II, shortly after turning 15.

Last season, Alvarez tallied an impressive 12 goals and three assists in 17 appearances, including two hat-tricks, and was awarded the LA Galaxy II Player of the Year award and the USL Young Player of the Year award. He also debuted for Mexico’s under-17s and scored a match-winner against Chile. Now at only 16 years old, Efrain Alvarez has broken into the LA Galaxy senior side and notched an assist in his professional debut.

A number 10

One of the most valuable positions in North American football is the central attacking midfielder. Players in this position are often very good on the ball and play as the key creators and distributors in attack. Efrain Alvarez fits this position almost impeccably. His ability to read the pitch well is vital in creating quality chances for his teammates or himself, often taking advantage of spaces around the defence.

Efrain Alvarez LA Galaxy Tactical Analysis Statistics
Alvarez draws a defensive midfielder out of position before passing the ball to an open teammate. Alvarez then quickly makes a run into this newly-opened space.
“The way Efra sees the game is different than any other youth player I’ve seen in the US.” – Developmental Academy coach Sean Monaghan
Efrain Alvarez LA Galaxy Tactical Analysis Statistics
Another teammate pulls open the opposing back line by shifting away from Alvarez, who sees the open running lane, receives the ball between the defenders, and scores.

Alvarez’s forward positioning and multiple attacking traits see many consider him a centre-forward at times. His composure as the primary playmaker in the final third is excellent for a player his age. Commanding the attacking midfield position can be one of the most difficult roles to play on the pitch as it requires excellent vision and is highly critiqued, yet Alvarez has been very successful in this role.

Technique and creativity

Alvarez’s attacking vision is outstanding, but it is this combined with his remarkable technique that truly makes him a special player. He dribbles close to his feet, makes pinpoint passes in the final third, and has an assertive flair on the ball.

Efrain Alvarez LA Galaxy Tactical Analysis Statistics
Alvarez isn’t afraid to attempt audacious passes across lines. Here he completes a through-ball that breaks two defensive lines, resulting in an assist.

Alvarez often uses his body shape while on the ball to deceive defenders, emphasising false movements before quickly shifting in the opposite direction. This was evident on his debut against FC Dallas.

Efrain Alvarez LA Galaxy Tactical Analysis Statistics
After receiving the ball on the right side of the box, Alvarez feints to his left, tricking his opponent into thinking he will cross the ball in from that spot.
Efrain Alvarez LA Galaxy Tactical Analysis Statistics
This clever body movement and ball skill creates space for Alvarez to penetrate at the bottom of the box by pulling the defender in the opposite direction. Alvarez then hits a cross in from the open space to the back post for his first MLS assist just seven minutes into his professional debut.

This ability to move defenders on his own is especially extraordinary for his young age. As stated, this can create valuable space to evolve attacking transitions and spatial movements for both himself and his teammates. Alvarez is also an extremely clinical finisher, and isn’t afraid to shoot from outside the box or into the corner.

Efrain Alvarez LA Galaxy Tactical Analysis Statistics
After shaking off defenders with quick dribbling movements, Alvarez actually scores this goal by curling his shot around the last defender in a very technical finish.

Lastly, as with many forward attacking players, Alvarez’s defensive work rate could be improved, but the system he plays in often allows him to bypass this weakness.

National team

Born to Mexican immigrants, Alvarez is currently involved in Mexico’s youth setup. After originally representing the United States with the under-15 group, he switched in 2016 to El Tri, and has continued to rise through Mexico’s youth ranks.

Efrain Alvarez LA Galaxy Tactical Analysis Statistics
Alvarez hitting an accurate assist from a free kick in a victory for the Mexico under-15s against the United States.

However, Alvarez insists that the door is still wide open for the United States to come calling. There is a particular shortage of pure number 10s in the United States player pool, and Alvarez could fit that missing link.

Conclusion

“He’s young, but I don’t like to say he’s young or old or whatever, if he’s ready, he’s ready and I think he’s ready.” – Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

There is little doubt that Efra is already one of the most creative, highly-skilled players to ever come out of the United States. The LA Galaxy squad is, for once, not over-crowded with attacking players, and there has been enough evidence early this season that proves Alvarez is more than ready to play consistently in the professional game. It shouldn’t be too long before we see clubs from Europe scouting him.

As for the national team, both Mexico and the United States should also be at Alvarez’s doorstep in the near future. His unique traits in this part of the world make him highly-coveted, and whichever side he chooses to represent in international football will benefit immensely.


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