Gregg Berhalter talks frequently about the environment, and he’s confident enough in the one being built around the US national team that he has encouraged a coveted dual-national to explore another and compare.
Efraín Álvarez is just 18 years old and started just six MLS games for his hometown, LA Galaxy, last season. However, the skilled midfielder is already the subject of a cross-border tug of war between the region’s two heavyweights, who have equally high potential. Born in Los Angeles but eligible for Mexico through family ties, Álvarez got his first international soccer experience with the United States Under-15 team in 2016. But the following summer, he played for Mexico in the Under-15 championship of Concacaf, where El Tri beat the United States in the final.
From there, its stock in Mexico rose. Álvarez scored four goals at the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup when his adoptive country won the silver medal, and he was on track to play a role in the U-23 team’s effort to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. But Berhalter remained persistent in his belief and in his communication, calling Alvarez to a senior camp in December. Álvarez was ineligible to play in the subsequent friendly due to his youth World Cup experience; he would have had to apply for a one-time permanent change from the US, but Berhalter felt it was vital for Alvarez to experience that environment he mentions. so often.
“I think it’s smart for a player to see what’s out there and see what’s available,” Berhalter said at the time. “For me this is not an unusual process and again all we are looking to do is create a good environment for the players they want to play for.”
The American coach is now practicing what he preached. Named by both the United States and Mexico to the preliminary Olympic qualification rosters, Álvarez opted for neither and will instead join coach Gerardo Martino’s senior Mexican team for this month’s European camp and friendlies. against Wales and Costa Rica. Appearances there will not permanently link you to Mexico; He could still request that one-time change, so Berhalter encouraged him to go. Compare them with us. Experience what it’s like on the other side, then see how it feels.
“I have spoken to him about it and recommended that he join the Mexican national team,” Berhalter said Wednesday after unveiling the team for the United States’ two March friendlies. “And the reason is that he has been in our environment, and I think the only way he can make an informed decision is to go to his environment.
“We’ve always said that all we want to do is put the players in position to make the best possible decision they can make, and some players are going to choose for us and others are not going to choose for us.” Berhalter continued. “But when it comes to the emotion of the decision, we want to take some of that emotion out of it by allowing you to have objective data of what the environments are like and to be able to compare them. So we wish him all the best in this camp, and I am sure I will continue with him after camp. “
If Álvarez opts for Mexico, it will not be because he feels pressured or unwanted by the United States. Berhalter, his staff and U23 coach Jason Kreis seem to have given the player a lot of space and respect, while also letting him know in no uncertain terms that they would love to have him on board.
After announcing his Olympic qualifying squad last week, Kreis detailed US Soccer’s thinking and hopes for Alvarez. His decision not to join the Americans for the Concacaf tournament in Guadalajara, Mexico, and then the decision to head to Europe with El Tri, represent steps on a bigger journey.
“Efraín Álvarez is a player for whom the programming of the men’s team has a high level of interest. From my point of view, I think it is important to know that it is not only the U-23 team that wants Efraín Álvarez to be part of . of our efforts. So he’s bigger than that. So I think he was more important than the coach of the national team. [speak] to Efraín Álvarez and that’s how it has been, ”said Kreis.
“Gregg has had very, very good communication and constant and regular communication with Efraín about what his path would be like with the men’s national team programs. I think it should be a more important issue because it is a more important decision than just who he should play his U-23 football with, ”Kreis added. So those conversations have continued. He is a player that interests us a lot, but he is also a player that we know has the option of playing for Mexico and we believe that it is a very personal decision. So we just express our interest, we express what we think about the road and then we say, ‘Of course we will fully respect your decision in your free time.’
In evaluating Álvarez in December, Berhalter praised the midfielder’s versatility and envisioned he could fill several positions with the United States.
“What I saw today in training is that he is a guy that you want to be close to the ball with, a very creative player, he has a good change of pace, very good in tight spaces,” Berhalter said. “For me, it was really interesting training to watch and I can see him in an offensive midfield role, in a winger role, even in the No. 9 role because of the way we’ve been using No. 9 at times. For me, he is a quality player. “
Berhalter, Kreis and US Soccer have launched. Now they are at peace letting Mexico do its thing.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.