There was no one in the Development Academy last season quite like Efrain Alvarez. In reality, there have been few like him in the academy’s history.
Alvarez has been a star in the making seemingly since he first stepped over the lines for the Galaxy in the DA more than two years ago. His first three months in the academy, for the Galaxy 14s, he scored 16 goals. He was a no-doubt starter in the attacking midfield for John Hackworth’s U.S. U15 BNT practically from the moment he was eligible. He’s been playing up in age group seemingly his entire youth career, and he almost invariably looks like the most dangerous force on the field. He was at the center of a desperate tug-of-war between the USSF and the FMF, a battle Mexico appears to have won.
At least for now.
All the while, Alvarez quietly became the biggest star in the LA Galaxy’s highly regarded academy. He was moved to the 18s this season despite being a 2020, three years younger than the oldest players in that age group. He scored a goal in the semifinals of the Galaxy’s incredible postseason run. He scored again in the final, their only goal of the game. Galaxy brass had already known Alvarez was a star in the making, one of those players you move mountains to sign. The question was whether they would be able to. Reports proliferated that LigaMX clubs practically lined up one after the other to secure his signature.
So the news hit hard on Wednesday. The Galaxy did it. Alvarez is reportedly about to sign for Los Dos in the USL.
— Adam Serrano (@LAGalaxyInsider) August 2, 2017
When Don Garber talks about MLS being a league of choice, I think I know what he means. He is speaking by and large to casual fans, who want reassurance that big name international players who have not yet begun to collect social security checks are interested in signing with MLS. That given the choice between leagues, some enterprising 25-year old will choose MLS over a raft of seemingly more lucrative offers. I think this is a fair interpretation of his language.
But when I think league of choice, and I’m considering the longevity and growth of the league, I’m far more concerned with what the country’s best teenagers are doing. From the league’s standpoint, even though the names are fractionally as glitzy, keeping guys like Weston McKennie, Haji Wright and Alvarez home is a bigger deal. Because there are more of them, they are cheaper, and they are reproducible. And they are a lot of fun.
Alvarez won’t move any national popularity needles or rattle any cages in first team war rooms across MLS. At least not yet. This is a play for the long term. As you’ve read, he’s now the youngest player in USL history, barely 15 years old. But he’s also the best leveraged in USL history, as nobody in their teens has ever signed with so much professional interest at his back. LigaMX clubs were practically crawling over each other to rope him into their academies. Alvarez still has things to prove, but I think it’s fair to say he’s on the fastest track to first team minutes available to an MLS Homegrown.
The argument about whether this is best for Alvarez’s progression will rage across the early paces of his career. Those questions are fair, mostly. The pathway from LA Galaxy II to the first team has been difficult to walk at best, and if Alvarez is the first true Los Dos breakthrough star with the senior team, he’ll be the first.
But if you’d bet on anyone being that player, it’d be Alvarez. The DA has scarcely produced a more enjoyable player to watch in its history.