Teen Efrain Alvarez shows off quality at USMNT camp

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

5 comments about "Teen Efrain Alvarez shows off quality at USMNT camp".
  1. R2 Dad, December 3, 2020 at 1:33 a.m.

    Tata can promise the moon and stars (he will probably be gone after 2022 WC), but if the Liga MX owners don't want EA to play for El Tri because he's not under contract in Mexico, he's not going to play. OK, maybe just long enough to be cap-tied. Would love to have him with the Nats as our 10, but what would GB do with him? All he knows is box-to-box midfielders for the USMNT. Runners. This kid needs a system built around his unique skill set. Maybe Tata can be invited north after 2022?

  2. Wooden Ships replied, December 3, 2020 at 4:05 p.m.

    R2, we are at a point to where the more skilled, better dribbling and comfort with the ball player, can no longer be excluded. Is USSF and Greg ready to accept this style of play? It will exclude most of the traditionally produced mainstream club product. We e had these players, maybe the recognition is overwhelming today. Hope so.

  3. R2 Dad replied, December 5, 2020 at 1:26 a.m.

    WS, it's not enough to say they won't be excluded. The culture has to be welcoming to kids who speak spanish at home, who live the game, who idolize players not from the US. We have to say You Are Specifically Needed For Our Program. We will no longer play kickball. Your 40 yard dash times are not a deciding factor--we care about your first touch, your navigating tight spaces, your vision. It's all about the feels for these young players, and we can't fake that.It has to be baked in. And that's where a Hugo Perez or Tata comes in. It has to be authentic. 

  4. cheese Pony, December 3, 2020 at 8:34 p.m.

    US rapidly leaving players linked to Mexico in the dust... our best players all play in Europe now - we probably going to have all Europe based WC starters.  My message to players who play foot skill, great vision, passion - come play for US - long ball MLS thing aint our national team anymore.  USA IS YOUR STYLE.  Come play USA - marketing opportunities better, more money, more winning.  This thing is just getting started.  With or without Burkhalter. It's a new day. 

  5. Bob Ashpole, December 4, 2020 at 8:15 p.m.

    If the US U15 camp hasn't room to invite every extremely promising player, then it is past time that they expanded the program until they can. Ditto for the other youth camps. This is not the time to artificially limit the number of upcoming youth players.

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