CARSON, Calif. – It's taken Favio Alvarez time to figure out Major League Soccer and how the game is played in these parts. But as his comfort level rises, so does the dynamism within the LA Galaxy's attack.
The 26-year-old Argentine midfielder has emerged as the key figure in the attacking third for the Western Conference's second-place side, serving as Zlatan Ibrahimovic's deputy and chief provider. The feeling within the club is that he's got a lot more to show.
“I think I am going from less to more, improving game by game,” he told MLSsoccer.com Wednesday afternoon as the Galaxy prepared for Saturday's clash in Portland with the Timbers (10:30 pm ET | FS1, TSN4). “I think I still have a lot to give, and as games pass, I will continue to get better. I think I'm on the right path.”
Acquired on loan in early May from Atletico Tucuman, Alvarez has been up and down through nine league games, often mirroring the Galaxy's inconsistency. He's got but two goals and two assists (plus two U.S. Open Cup assists), numbers with which neither he nor LA are satisfied. But his ability to open space, find teammates and slip through attackers, Ibrahimovic most of all, has played an instrumental role in the team's offensive success.
“He manages the ball, [gets us into] the box, and gets assists,” head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto said. “This is a big part why we bring him [in]. He can score and play next to the striker and assist [goals] all of the time.
“He needs to be more consistent. He needs to play 90 minutes, not just [in certain] moments during the game. Because he looks very quiet [at times]. This league is more dynamic than [the game] in South America, and he needs to be more dynamic, too.”
That's starting to happen. Alvarez’s connection with teammates is solidifying, and he had a memorable game in LA's 3-2 victory over crosstown rivals LAFC last week, capping his performance by feeding Ibrahimovic for his vital third goal.
“Every week he's getting a little more dangerous, maybe connecting on a few more [passes],” defender Daniel Steres said. “I think he's growing into that, finding out where he can take his spots and take his passes. … He's always looking for that pass, always trying to be dangerous. He always wants to make something happen.
“He's getting into his rhythm and coming into his own and trying to play a role that we desperately need.”
Alvarez has seen advances in his relationship with Jonathan dos Santos and Joe Corona, who play behind him in LA's midfield triangle. Corona is impressed by how “he always moving a lot for us and makes it easy for us when we recover the ball or are looking for a free player, always trying to get available for us.
“Favio's a very intelligent player, and he gives us a lot of depth [playing underneath Ibrahimovic],” Corona added. “He's always looking for those passes, you know? Those passes that can put you one-on-one against the goalie when you have fast players like Uriel [Antuna] and Ema [Boateng] that can make those runs behind the center backs. Favio is very good at seeing those spaces, and he gives very good passes.
“He's getting to know us more, and we're getting to know him more, so it's a chemistry thing.”
Alvarez is still adapting to the more physical nature of MLS.
“It's a difficult league in the physical aspect,” he said. “Everyone's in great shape, players never stop running, and maybe that doesn’t happen in other leagues because they are more technical. Everyone runs a lot, games are back and forth.
“And that’s why it’s important to be good physically, because if you are good physically, and if we do what our head coach wants us to do with the ball, we are able to distinguish ourselves from the rest of the teams, because we have players with great technical abilities.”
Most of all Ibrahimovic, who has 16 of LA's 30 goals. Alvarez believes that playing alongside the Swedish superstar is helping to grow his game.
“Watching him, watching his movement on the field, his hierarchy,” Alvarez said. “I think watching him play helps us so much because sharing a field with him, you see him and you learn from his movements.”