GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Ventura Alvarado (above, right) will never forget Wednesday night.
That was when the 19-year-old Phoenix native debuted for Club América. He went 90 minutes in the Aguilas' 2-1 loss to Veracruz, putting in a composed and confident performance at the heart of the defense. Fast, good in the air, decisive and comfortable playing the ball out from the back, Alvarado enjoyed his initial taste of first team action, despite the defeat, but has already set his sights high.
“I want to get as many minutes as possible, consolidate myself in the squad and not get dropped down to the Under-20s for anything,” Alvarado told MLSsoccer.com by phone earlier in the week on this season's goals. “And my desire for next season is to become a starter.”
Those are admirable, albeit lofty, ambitions for the youngster, who was playing for Pachuca affiliate team Tuzos Soccer Club in Arizona before a coach arranged for him to go on trial at Club América more than four years ago.
“I arrived [at América] on January 3, 2008," Alvarado explained. "I was here for two weeks on trial and within a month I signed.”
América may not have as strong a reputation for producing players as other Mexican clubs like Chivas, Atlas or Pumas, but the Águilas have changed their focus and are now a conveyor belt of talent: The club has won the last four Under-20 titles in Mexico, no easy feat.
After spending his first two years bouncing from the Under-17s and the club's second division team, Alvarado was a cornerstone at center back of the last two U-20 championships for América.
And his optimism at getting first team chances in the Liga MX in the near future may not be misplaced, especially if he can continue to put in good performances in the Copa MX. Diego Reyes, Raúl Jiménez and Erick Pimentel have already made the jump from Under-20s to first team over the last year, with head coach Miguel Herrera showing he is willing to promote the very best young talent to the first team.
“We have to take into account the youngsters,” said Herrera during the preseason, responding to criticism that the club should've brought in more players in the offseason. “The youngsters have been champions the last four seasons and it's important that we give them a chance. We believe in them.”
If Wednesday's game was anything to go by, Alvarado – whose mother is from Durango and father Puebla – is one of those youngsters at whom Herrera intends to take a close look.
Alvarado was promoted in the preseason to a fully-fledged member of the first team squad, and he is enjoying the challenge of pitting his wits in training with some of América's top players, including powerhouse Ecuadorean international Christian Benítez.
“I give him a battle,” laughed Alvarado. “I've learned a lot from him. I also like a lot how Aquivaldo [Mosquera] plays, how he moves out of defense calmly. Eric Pimentel is also very strong. Rolfi's touch and how he thinks is also good, he's very intelligent.”
Alvarado admits that there is a lot of pressure put on players at América and that he had missed the States, his mom's cooking and his friends when he first moved down south of the border.
Alvarado has not been involved at any level of the US national team setup so far, but has played for Mexico at the Under-17 and Under-18 level. Should the US come calling, however, he indicated that he would accept with open arms.
As for long-term plans, Alvarado, an FC Barcelona fanatic, does not pause: “Spain. I love the football over there. I think I have the qualities to play there.”
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.