When a TUDN Mexico report surfaced on Saturday stating that Efrain Alvarez would be called up for the Mexican national team’s upcoming March friendlies, the initial thought among some Mexican media was that the call-up meant Alvarez had made a final decision on which national team he would represent. The assumption was made that Alvarez was going to commit to playing for El Tri rather than the United States, which he had spent time with at a recent December national team camp.
That presumptuous interpretation ignored the actual initial TUDN report, which itself stated that Alvarez’s international feature was still undecided. A source with knowledge of Alvarez’s plans tells SBI that the LA Galaxy midfielder has not made a final decision on his international future, even though he is ready to take part in his first Mexican national team camp.
To be clear, Alvarez is free to accept a call-up for Mexican friendlies without risking being cap-tied to Mexico. Right now, due to his appearances for Mexico at the Under-17 World Cup, he is tentatively tied to Mexico, but could still file a one-time Change of Association with FIFA in order to play for the United States, his country of birth, even if he appears in Mexico’s upcoming matches against Wales and Costa Rica.
The difference between Alvarez’s situation and that of Monterrey and former U.S. Under-20 national team midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez’s national team situation is that since Gonzalez played for the United States in official youth competitions, he was required to file a Change of Association to play for Mexico, which he did in a friendly in 2018. The one-time switch tied Gonzalez to Mexico permanently, and he has not featured with the senior team again since then.
For the 18-year-old Alvarez, the only thing that could tie him to Mexico at the moment is playing in an official competition, like the Nations League, Gold Cup or World Cup qualifiers, all three of which Mexico will compete in later in 2021. Mexico’s first chance to cap-tie Alvarez would come in June’s Nations League, but it remains to be seen whether Tata Martino would be willing to bring in the teenager for an official competition.
As things stand, Alvarez isn’t ready to commit one way or the other, but it is safe to project Mexico as having the advantage at the moment, and the experience of taking part in his first Mexican national team camp and friendlies could help lead him to make a final decision ahead of an important year for both Mexico and the United States.
It is also an important year for Alvarez, as he looks to break through and become a regular starter for the LA Galaxy, which he has yet to do despite showing exciting flashes of skill in recent years. Alvarez has made 30 appearances over the past two seasons with the Galaxy, but just 10 starts.
Despite his limited minutes with the Galaxy first team, Alvarez has drawn praise from the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who once called him the most talented teenager in MLS.
The United States is still actively recruiting Alvarez, though USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter and U-23 coach Jason Kreis have made it clear they are being patient. Given the USMNT’s recent landing of former England youth international Yunus Musah, the Americans are already riding high on the dual national front and won’t feel any need to pressure Alvarez.
Something else for Alvarez to consider is the fate of fellow Mexican-American Jonathan Gonzalez, who committed to play for Mexico, only to fall by the wayside as his club career at Monterrey faltered. Gonzalez has not earned a national team appearance since his debut following his filing of a one-time switch, and more recently Gonzalez was left off Mexico’s Olympic qualifying squad.
It is something for Alvarez to think about, and if the Americans can convince Alvarez to represent the United States, it would be another example of the growing momentum around a USMNT program with an exciting generation of young talent working its way up the pipeline.