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.
“The way Efra sees the game is different than any other youth player I’ve seen in the US.” – Developmental Academy coach Sean Monaghan
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Buy your copy of the March issue for just ₤4.99 here, or even better sign up for a ₤50 annual membership (12 monthly issues plus the annual review) right here.