For the past few years soccer fans across North America have buzzed about Efrain Alvarez, the highly-touted LA Galaxy academy product coveted by the national teams of both Mexico and the United States.
If you didn’t know about Efra before, odds are you do now.
The 16-year-old Homegrown grabbed the spotlight in his MLS debut on Saturday night, coming off the bench to help power the Galaxy’s second-half comeback with an assist on the equalizer and a key role in Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s game-winner in a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire at Dignity Health Sports Park.
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Last year Efra became the youngest player ever to appear in USL play; on Saturday he became the youngest ever to appear for the Galaxy.
Checking in just shy of the hour mark with LA trailing 1-0, Alvarez took up a spot on the Galaxy’s right flank and soon started making things happen. Gathering a loose ball on the right side of the Fire penalty box after a half-cleared corner kick, the East Los Angeles native bewitched Aleksandar Katai with a bit of skill before delivering a teasing cross for Daniel Steres to nod past David Ousted.
Some 12 minutes later Alvarez got involved in the buildup on the winner, combining with fellow substitute Chris Pontius along the right channel with his back to goal to allow Pontius to rip a dipping drive that clanged off Ousted’s crossbar and sat up nicely for Ibrahimovic to head home.
Efra's final stat line: One assist, one key pass (the dish to Pontius), one unsuccessful dribble and six of 12 passes completed. The left-footed attacker also took two corner kicks and one free kick, a sign of the respect his coaches and teammates have already bestowed on him.
The teenager tore up USL last year with LA Galaxy II, the Galaxy’s second team, scoring 12 goals and 3 assists in 17 matches en route to winning the league’s Young Player of the Year award. Ranked No. 17 on MLSsoccer.com's 2018 22 Under 22 list, he’s already been tipped as a candidate to become a breakout newcomer in MLS this season, and will likely continue to be a hot topic among fans on both sides of the US-Mexico border.
Alvarez – whose older brother Carlos was the second overall pick in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft and currently plays for USL Championship side Las Vegas Lights FC – spent time in the US youth national teams system in his early teens, then switched to Mexico, the country of his parents’ birth, in 2016 and has been a standout for El Tri’s youth sides ever since. He’s not yet permanently committed to Mexico, however, and has said as much in remarks to the media.