It was the 80th minute of the LA Galaxy’s home opener when a then 16-year old Efrain Alvarez juked Alexander Katai out of his shoes, took a few touches and dinked a sublime chip for Daniel Steres to powerfully head home the game-winner. In the postgame scrum Zlatan declared Efrain “The best talent in MLS by far”.
A week later in Frisco Texas, Alvarez nutmegged Matt Hedges out of his shoes before his rocket from close-range was palmed over the bar by Jesse Gonzalez.
You can already guess what happened next. Like clockwork, the American soccer media declared Efrain the next big thing. Plenty of virtual ink was spilled on his brilliant left foot, his dual-nationality, his East LA upbringing.
It was just two plays. shrug emoji
It would also be foolhardy to deny Alvarez’s immense talent. When given time and space the attacker can glide the ball into the net with breathtaking precision. There was a moment during yesterday’s match when Efrain took a ball out of the air and squared to Pavon centrally that was knife-through-butter smooth.
However when given opportunities this season, these moments of productive dexterity have been few and far between. Jettisoned into the attacking playmaking role on Sunday, Alvarez had a few close chances to score but failed to locate Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the box on multiple occasions and was otherwise a non-factor.
Not that fans should be panicking. Target practice in the USL and producing at the MLS level are two different things, and Efrain has the look of an individual still growing into his body. Despite a penchant for highlight reel goals, Alvarez struggles at times to create separation from his opponents. Until Efrain develops the technical and the physical tools required to succeed Alvarez will be at a competitive disadvantage. Mentally there the signs the 17-year old has some growing to do as well.
For now the technical staff are continuing to nurture the young talent and (wisely) allowing Efrain to grow at his own pace. Alvarez is the future, but he shouldn’t be counted on for production in the near future.