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Efrain Alvarez has a decision to make as Mexico and USMNT both claim him for Olympic qualifying

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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.

Comments

  1. Chances are this kid will flame out faster then Gio Reyna did. However, as a program you have to go all out after every prospect especially this one considering his other suitor is your biggest rival.

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    • On what planet do you live? Gio has 4g 6a for a good B.1 team. (5 goals for Juve is a banner year for Weston….) He looked awkward for the US but was a CM being played out of position at RW, and still managed an assist on Panama. I think every G or A he has for Dortmund this year is when he plays AM. Just like every single senior game Musah has played for Valencia this year is as a wing. Our coach is an idiot who would solve his problem but playing them properly and not getting cute.

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  2. My question is whether being tracked towards the U23s is sufficient incentive to nail Efrain down and secure his switch. Obviously a senior camp intrigued him enough he showed up. Would he be more responsive to a Northern Ireland friendly roster spot in March? I wonder. Before people mock my post, there is the level of intensity we chased the actually mediocre Dest with, and then there’s everyone else, who gets “you have a choice to make,” plenty of space, and a U23 invite.

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    • To be clear, every spot on every roster doesn’t have to be pure merit, there are people on every camp roster who come in to play barely any minutes, you can decide that there is more value in locking down Efrain’s future as opposed to giving Roldan his 20th cap.

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    • See, we have made it an even choice. Them = Olympics. Us = Olympics. The way to perhaps win that is asymmetry. Us = senior cap. We prize you higher than they do. Even if realistically we see him as more Olympian quality now. Do you want him in the tent or not? Our current model of promoting only on merit increases the odds lesser teams steal our players by offering them higher status faster. And in this case with a quality other choice, makes us no more attractive.

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  3. US has so many good young players now hitting their prime it hard to imagine that Mexico will remain the country winning all the medals etc. I think a smart player should be able to see that. Of course good on paper does not always translate to good in reality. But for me I think picking the US should be a no brainer.

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    • That’s a passive sell. “We think we will be good.” Which to be fair has had some historical success. But if you really want to be aggressive you offer them senior involvement — even without promises. I don’t like this current trend towards passively telling them they have a choice and we hope you will join us. What you do is ignore they have a choice, commit them to here somehow, and then worry about their precise progression after they are in the fold. This is the way we have done it for decades: cap people to secure them and then figure out what we actually have. I think there is 1 guy in like 30 years — Tchani — who actually used the loopholes to escape after being capped. If we gave him a senior cap that probably resolves that.

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      • In all honesty though the players we’ve provisionally capped usually haven’t had a whole lot of other options. Generally they’ve been either unwanted by a bigger nation or had no competitive option with a smaller. It wasn’t like Germany was coming for D. Williams, Chandler, or Green. Jones had been pretty well cut out by Germany as well. I realize Tyler Boyd had to file a switch but if he didn’t would he really want to switch back to New Zealand and win titles against Fiji and the Cook Islands.

  4. El Tri has a history of putting out a very competitive team for the Olympics. Would be interesting to see if he makes the 20 and then if he actually plays?

    One thing to consider and i am sure motivates Mexico is winning a medal and most of all a tournament with some weight.

    I wonder behind closed doors what the entire USMNT projects?

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    • He was an integral part of their U17 team and is now on their provo roster, I think they rate him. My response is more like what I feel on Soto, why do we rate some of our players lower than other countries do? I don’t trust GB’s talent evaluation. It doesn’t match the esteem some of the players are held in elsewhere. Richards, Reyna, Weah, etc. If you get cute I like to see results. Otherwise maybe esteem your players at roughly the level the rest of the world does. The USMNT would look different if we did.

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