Alvarez didn’t live up to his potential at the World Cup but ahead of a likely move to Europe, he’s helped Mexico get one win away from a Gold Cup win
Edson Alvarez didn’t feel like a loser. Sure, his World Cup didn’t go as planned. French newspaper L’Equipe put him in its Worst XI of the tournament – a selection no doubt spurred by his own goal against Sweden in the final group game. It was a gaffe that left him in tears after the whistle blew on a 3-0 El Tri defeat.
Yet, the rising Club America star knew better things were ahead. “The only defeated people in the world are those who quit fighting and dreaming,” he wrote on Instagram after Mexico was eliminated by Brazil in the round of 16.
Ahead of Sunday’s Gold Cup final against the United States, Alvarez’s dreams are alive and well. Now 21, this summer is likely to be remembered as the one in which he took a jump to Europe. Ajax, West Ham and Wolves reportedly have made offers for the versatile player who, since those difficult moments in Russia helped America to the Liga MX Apertura title and became a critical piece of Tata Martino’s national team.
Each summer has brought something new for Alvarez. He’s currently the starting holding midfielder in Martino’s 4-3-3 but went to the World Cup last year as a right-back. That was tough since he’d only come in for spot starts there with Las Aguilas, more often playing in the middle. This season, club coach Miguel Herrera deployed him in the midfield next to Guido Rodriguez far more frequently, and his comfort playing in that role has grown.
The summer of 2017 also was formative for Alvarez, Former Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio brought him along to the Confederations Cup to observe, though he wasn’t part of the squad. Then, Osorio played him in the 2017 Gold Cup as El Tri’s right-back, paving the way for his World Cup performances after injuries to Diego Reyes and Nestor Araujo allowed Alvarez to make the team. Since 2017, Alvarez has said his dream is to play in Europe, and seeing how players like Rafa Marquez and Hector Moreno landed at the game’s highest levels had a big effect on Alvarez.
“I couldn’t believe it, being a young guy who at that time was 18 or 19 years old. I felt really happy to be involved with these stars, with these ‘cracks’ who have done a lot of things in their careers,” Alvarez recalled last year. “They’ve come to me giving me advice, advice on the field as well. I feel really fortunate to have been in with the group because with this I grew daily.”
He’s now set to follow in those players’ footsteps. Alvarez’s physical presence, plus his comfort on the ball make it easy to see why a team like Ajax would be after him. Come into the midfield after starting an attack from the back? No problem. It’s clear the America youth product has played his final minutes with the Mexico City club.
It may be a frustrating end, with injuries limiting him and keeping him out of the Liguilla in the Clausura. A knee issue threatened to keep him out fo the Gold Cup as well, but he recovered quickly from the knock suffered in a pre-tournament friendly against Venezuela and now looks set not only to play the full 90 in all but one match for Mexico, but also to move to Europe straight after.
“Possibilities are opening up. I’m really happy to be more and more close to this dream that I desire with all my heart and hopefully it will be the best for me,” Alvarez said earlier in the tournament.
While he’s set to move abroad whether Mexico wins the Gold Cup or finish as runner-up, his test Sunday will be one of his biggest to date. With little help from others, he’ll need to control a United States midfield that includes veteran savvy in Michael Bradley and youthful exuberance (plus skill and speed in transition) in Weston McKennie.
At club level, Alvarez has leaned on Rodriguez next to him to cover him if he’s in the wrong place on the field. With Mexico, he has Moreno and Carlos Salcedo behind him but has far less support in the midfield. He’s looked increasingly comfortable as the tournament has worn on – even as Mexico’s coaching staff says the team has dropped off in quality as the month has progressed (and even as he avoided a red card that may have resulted from a tackle attempted in the Haiti game that the attacker skipped over). But with respect to Celso Borges and Steeven Saba, Alvarez is yet to be given a task like the one he’ll undertake Sunday.
He’ll do his best to help Mexico lift the Gold Cup. Even if El Tri falls short, though, Alvarez feels like a winner. With a big role to play for Mexico going forward and an exciting club future in front of him, why not?
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