The U.S. national team currently has two players in camp who currently aren't eligible to play.
Efrain Alvarez and Andres Perea will need to have FIFA approve a one-time switch of association because they played for Mexico's 2019 U-17 World Cup team and Colombia's 2017 U-17 World Cup and 2019 U-20 World Cup teams, respectively.
Perea, who was born in Tampa but moved to Medellin when he was 5 years old, is new to the American scene, having played his first season for the Orlando City, which just completed his permanent transfer from Atletico Nacional.
Alvarez is one of the most heralded players to ever come out of Los Angeles, signing with Galaxy II in 2017 when he was 15 and making his MLS debut with the Galaxy in 2017 when he was 16. He saw limited action in his first two MLS seasons -- 518 minutes in 2019 and 718 minutes in 2020 -- but has demonstrated an ability on the ball and an eye for goal rarely seen by an American player.
Alvarez played for the U.S. under-15 national team in 2016 but switched to play for Mexico after being dropped from the U-15s for a camp. He has played with Mexico's U-20 national team this fall and Mexico national team coach Tata Martino says he has a "bright future" with Mexico.
U.S. national team coach Gregg Berhalter has followed Alvarez's progress and met with his family in Los Angeles. After Alvarez's debut in March 2019, Berhalter said his goal was for the national team to create an environment that players like Alvarez want to be in. He reiterated that position in a media call on Tuesday, saying the national team can't hold it against a player that he switched from playing for the USA to another country at the youth level.
"You’re talking about players with cultural ties to other countries where emotion is involved," he said. "I can understand a player making a decision like that one time in his career. For us, all it's about is saying there is an open door and we want to create an environment players want to be in, we want to attract good quality players and the rest is up to the player to decide. It’s up to the player and his family to decide in the end what they’re going to pursue."
In that regard, Alvarez isn't alone.
Four other players in camp -- Julian Araujo, Marco Farfan, David Ochoa and Mauricio Pineda -- are the sons of Mexican parents and not tied to the USA at the senior level.
Five dual nationals in camp -- Ayo Akinola (Canada and Nigeria), CJ Dos Santos (Portugal), Mark McKenzie (Jamaica), Araujo and Ochoa -- have represented the USA internationally at the youth level and would need a switch of association to play for another national team.
Other players have switched back and forth. Ochoa spent time in Mexico's youth system, as did Uly Llanez and Alex Mendez, his teammates on the 2019 U.S. U-20 World Cup team. Following his breakout 2017 Apertura campaign with Monterrey, Jonathan Gonzalez made a switch of association, joining Mexico after representing the USA in 2017 U-20 World Cup qualifying, but three years later hardly plays for Los Rayados (just 57 minutes in the 2020 Apertura) and isn't currently in the Mexico national team picture.
Among the Americans currently in Mexico's national youth team program are LAFC's Tony Leone, the Galaxy's Johnny Perez and 15-year-old Alex Alcala, who is reported to have signed with the Galaxy.
Berhalter stressed that Alvarez is still young, at 18 the youngest player in camp.
"What I've seen from him is a maturity, a development as a player over this last year," he said. "He looks much more physically fit, he's able to impact games for longer this season. It was unfortunate he didn't play more."
Berhalter said he was impressed with what he saw at the team's first practice.
"What I saw today in training is he’s a guy you want to be around the ball, a very creative player, has a good change of pace, very good in tight spaces," he said. "To me, it was a really interesting training to watch him and I can see him in an attacking midfield role, in a winger role, even in the No. 9 role because of the way we’ve been using the [false] No. 9 at times. To me, he’s a quality player."
Photos: Ringo Chiu/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire, LA Galaxy