Efrain Alvarez is just 18 years old, but the highly-regarded prospect is drawing closer to having to make a big decision regarding his international future.
Alvarez was included on the preliminary Concacaf Olympic qualifying rosters for both the United States and Mexico, bringing to the forefront a reality that was already known beforehand. Alvarez will eventually have to make a final decision on whether he will play internationally for the United States, where he was born, or for Mexico, where his family is from and which he has played for on multiple youth national team levels.
Tuesday’s news that both Mexico and the USA put Alvarez on their Olympic qualifying preliminary rosters shouldn’t come as a big surprise. Not after Alvarez accepted a recent call-up to the U.S. Men’s National Team’s training camp in December. That decision made it clear that Alvarez had not yet closed the door on potentially playing for the United States.
Alvarez is in no rush to make a final decision, and in theory he could choose to play for Mexico in Olympic qualifying, and even in the Olympics, and still not be cap-tied to El Tri.
Where Mexico does hold an advantage right now is in the reality that Alvarez doesn’t have to close the door on the United States in order to keep playing for Mexico, but he would have to close the door on Mexico in order to represent the United States in an official competition because he would need to file a one-time Change of Association with FIFA to play for the United States.
At this point, Alvarez has given no indication of being ready to make a switch, so it is still more likely that he plays for Mexico in Olympic qualifying, assuming he makes Mexico’s 20-player qualifying squad, which isn’t a guarantee. That said, Mexico could be tempted to include him in order to help keep itself in Alvarez’s good graces.
Realistically speaking, Alvarez wouldn’t be a guaranteed inclusion on the U.S. Olympic qualifying team either, certainly not if players such as Brenden Aaronson and Konrad De La Fuente are made available for the qualifying tournament. As skillful as Alvarez may be, the 18-year-old is still in the early stages of his professional career, and has yet to establish himself as a regular starter for the LA Galaxy. Other attacking midfield options in the USA pool who have already become regulars in MLS include Gianluca Busio and Cole Bassett, as well as Djordje Mihailovic.
U.S. Under-23 coach Jason Kreis made it clear that Alvarez is a player the U.S. program rates, and was careful to make it clear U.S. Soccer won’t be pressuring Alvarez into making a national team decision.
“Efra’s a player that we worked with in December, and to be frank with you, I hadn’t seen a whole lot of Efra, because I don’t think he’s really been a regular, consistent performer in MLS,” Kreis said in an interview with MLS Soccer. “And so to work with him for a week and see him in and around the rest of the full national team players was eye-opening.
“Gregg and I both feel this is a player that has some potential, and some tools that arguably nobody else in the national team pool has. And so he becomes very, very interesting for us,” Kreis said. “And so we want to afford him the opportunity to be a part of our national teams program going forward. Now having said that, we want to let him know that, but then we need to step back and say, this is a very personal decision for somebody, and so we don’t mean to put any undue pressure on you. We just want to let you know how highly we regard you, how highly we think your potential could be in our program.
“So the decision is left to Efra, but there will be no pressure put on him from the US men’s national team perspective.”
Alvarez starred for Mexico during its run to the Under-17 World Cup final in 2019, but would be playing in what would effectively be a U-24 tournament due to the age extension caused by the year delay in hosting the Olympics. Alvarez was the second-youngest player in Mexico’s preliminary roster for Olympic qualifying, and the fourth-youngest player on the USA roster.
The reality is Alvarez could wind up missing the qualifying tournament altogether, though there would be much more pressure on Mexico to include him, or run the risk of souring its relationship with a talented prospect who the USMNT would love to add to its stable.