Efrain Alvarez hit a milestone of sorts in his career on Wednesday, when it was announced he’s been called up to the full Mexico National Team set-up by head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino ahead of friendlies against Wales on Mar. 27 and Costa Rica on Mar. 30.
It’s the first senior team call-up for the 18-year-old East LA native, who has played at several Mexico youth age levels and has recently drawn interest on the U.S. Men’s National Team side as well, as he was invited to train with the USMNT in recent months.
It’s all part of a protracted recruiting battle between the two countries, and until Alvarez makes a definitive decision, or plays enough games at senior level for Mexico to lock him in for good, the uncertainty will continue.
Alvarez is considered a star in the making, but his 2020 season with the LA Galaxy was not viewed as transformative for the midfielder, who did score his first goal in MLS but struggled to produce, alongside the rest of the team not named Cristian Pavón, in Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s last year in charge.
Still, Alvarez picked up more playing time in 2020 and Schelotto credited the work the player did in getting physically ready during the coronavirus shutdown in earning more playing time. But new Galaxy head coach Greg Vanney says the work on that front continues for Alvarez.
“He’s one of those really talented younger players that we have in our system that has special qualities, no doubt, and so [we’re] trying to just work with him to understand, when, where, why and how he needs to do what he needs to do so that he can take advantage of all that special quality that he has,” Vanney told reporters Wednesday during media availability. “In the process, again, continuing to work, he’s still a young man so working on his overall physical capacity is one of the things we want to continue to build with him so that he can repeat these wonderful actions that he’s capable of over 90 minutes in a man’s game.”
Alvarez has shown his qualities from dead ball situations and in setting up teammates at MLS level, and he was a regular goalscorer at USL Championship level in 2018, before breaking through with the first team, but he’s not yet assured a starting role with Vanney, as the midfield is being recast ahead of the 2021 season.
Vanney said Alvarez is working on several components in reaching full maturity.
“So it’s a little bit working within his mind to help him understand some of the things we can take advantage and some of it’s just physically getting him to a point, again, where he can repeat those qualities that we need him to repeat over and over again,” Vanney said. “But he’s been very eager to learn, he is been very eager to work on the physical aspects that we’ve been asking him to, and he’s been a pleasure to work with. He’s excited about the moment in time, both what’s going on here at the club but also with his opportunity within the national team program, he’s got two wonderful countries there that are interested in his qualities and this go round he’s gonna go with Mexico and give a run with them.”
It’s unclear if Martino will give Alvarez his senior debut this month, and that won’t cap-tie the player either way, as FIFA has relaxed their dual-nationality rules and Alvarez could play up to four friendlies and still have the option to file a one-time switch to the United States if he so desired.
“I have a good relationship with Efraín Álvarez and we have good conversations. He is very committed to our project. He is a very talented player and I am very happy to have him in the roster for the FIFA International break later this month. It will be a good time to get to know him more and see him with the rest of the guys,” Martino said during an interview with Pasion W, as quoted in AS, indicating Alvarez may or may not see the field, we’ll see.
While this is exciting for Alvarez, and perhaps rather stressful in having two countries vie for his services, the fact remains that he needs to prove himself on the club front in order to earn international call-ups in the long run. This isn’t a make-or-break year for him, but 2021 is a year where he will have big expectations in MLS to fulfill if he is to be the phenom he’s been hyped to be for several years now. And if he comes through, that means the Galaxy will be benefitting.
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