Tony Alfaro’s reputation has been forged almost solely in Southern California, but the Cal State Dominguez Hills product is about to take his game to the national stage after excelling at the MLS Combine.
Since he was six years old, the central defender has featured almost exclusively within the Southern California soccer scene. Admittedly not the best in school and hindered by his solely local presence, Alfaro didn’t receive offers from any “big” schools before being scouted by Division II Dominguez Hills while playing at a youth tournament. A commitment soon followed, as Alfaro began a path that proved to be one less taken among professional soccer players.
While with the Toros, Alfaro established himself as a first team All-American, while anchoring the team’s defense. Meanwhile, Alfaro continued to elevate his game with the PDL’s Ventura County Fusion during the summer months while also training with LA Galaxy for several weeks in the Spring of 2015.
Almost a year later, Alfaro found himself as the only Division II player among the 60 participants at the MLS Combine. While few were familiar with Alfaro when players and coaches convened upon Fort Lauderdale, the center back’s performance proved to be more than enough to convince many around the league that the small-school prospect has a bright future in MLS.
“Coming in, I know who is coming into these things and I hear talk here and there,” Alfaro said, “but I think I’ve played with, in PDL, I’ve played against D1 guys and I’ve played against older guys, guys that really know how to play. For me, I just take it as a bunch of guys hanging around and playing some soccer. Not too much emphasis on who’s here, who’s not here kind of thing.
“All I can do is come here and perform and play how I know how to play and the rest will take care of itself. There is some pressure because you want to represent your school and everyone that has put their name on the line for you, but other than that, it’s just about performing.”
Alfaro’s path to the pros has been a winding one, and one that didn’t always project him as the center back prospect he is today.
Until the age of 12, the now 6-foot-2 defender featured as a midfielder or forward before being blessed by the height he possesses today. As he began to grow in stature, Alfaro began to shift into a defensive role, where he used his size to establish himself as a dominant central defender.
Alfaro’s roots remain a major part of his game. Very much comfortable on the ball, Alfaro says his past remains a key to his skill set to this day as he looks to blend the technique of a midfielder with the physical presence of a hulking center back.
“There are center backs that I hear about that are really good in the air and super physical,” Alfaro said, “but what they’re missing is their technical abilities. I know I’m not a complete player, but definitely my technical abilities on the ball, to hit a ball or control it or whatever, I think it definitely helps my game a lot.”
“Especially as a center back, coming out and playing out of the back or getting away from pressure, it helps me out a lot.”
Despite being on the precipice of kickstarting his pro career, Alfaro’s story is far from over as Thursday’s Draft will determine his future home.
Yet, Alfaro’s path, at least for him, is somewhat clear. Throughout his time at Dominguez, Alfaro looked to a former Toro as evidence that small school players like himself could make the leap and thrive.
That Toro is Kei Kamara, who finished tied atop the MLS scoring charts in 2015. Drafted ninth overall in 2006, Kamara has established himself as one of the league’s premier forwards while proving that superstars can come with a variety of pedigrees.
Having watched from afar, Alfaro knows that Kamara’s route is not the same as his. He may not be selected in the top 10 and he may not forge exactly the same path as his fellow Toro. However, Alfaro understands that the route is possible ahead of a Draft that will help him achieve his childhood dreams of playing the game he loves on a professional level.
“Seeing (Kamara) and hearing about where he started to where he is now, it’s kind of something where you say ‘how much do you really want it?’,” Alfaro said. “I look up to a guy like him. He was a guy at Dominguez one time and now look where he’s at. If I work hard and if I take care of my body and do the right things, I can be in the same position as him someday.
“I think coming from a smaller school, people can see it as this kid has more pressure and he has more to prove,” Alfaro added. “I just think it’s less pressure because it’s like the unknown kid that nobody knows about. I have nothing to lose.”