SANDY, Utah--If Arturo Alvarez takes the pitch at Rio Tinto Stadium Saturday, it won't be for the team with which he played his youth soccer.
His parents left El Salvador for America 30 years ago, before Alvarez, 24, was born. A flashy player with excellent ball control and an innate ability to beat his marker, Alvarez came up through the United States youth teams, playing alongside current internationals Benny Feilhaber and Charlie Davies, with whom he helped the U.S. qualify for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Following the disappointment of being cut from the roster that eventually traveled to Beijing, Alvarez attempted to switch his national team loyalties to the country of his parents. When FIFA made a new rule allowing players of any age (the previous cutoff had been 21) to switch international allegiances, provided the player had yet to accrue a senior cap, Alvarez already had his paperwork on file from earlier appeals.
While the U.S. still waits for Jermaine Jones and Edgar Castillo to be permitted to join the Stars and Stripes, Alvarez already has a cap for El Salvador. Against his former teammates, Alvarez will likely collect his second.
“It'll be fun,” said Landon Donovan, who spent two years on the Earthquakes with Alvarez. “When Arturo first came in the league, I was with him in San Jose and he always had a lot of potential. I think he's done a real good job of becoming a real professional. I'm excited for him, but I won't be wishing him too much luck Saturday.”
Even U.S. head coach Bob Bradley, who largely ignored the left-footed attacker even when Alvarez was available for selection, had only compliments for the player who could cause his side problems.
“Arturo is a talented player, and fits with some of the other talented players that El Salvador puts on the field,” Bradley said.
With a reshuffling at the back for the Americans, Alvarez will be looking to take advantage as he plays the country of his birth. Last time the two nations squared off, La Azul held on for a 2-2 draw in San Salvador. Alvarez hadn't made his switch then, but he'll be hoping to repeat the plucky performance.
“I'm really excited about the game coming up,” Alvarez told Goal.com. “It'll be a little weird knowing that I came up with the whole youth national team system in the U.S., but I'm just looking forward to my international career with El Salvador. Hopefully it'll be a good one and hopefully we get a good result against the U.S. tomorrow.”
Having played his entire club career in Major League Soccer, the U.S. team will know what to expect from Alvarez. On his day, he's capable of tearing apart any defense, as he's shown with the 'Quakes and FC Dallas.
“He's a dynamic player,” said Donovan. “He's difficult to play against. One v. one he's a very good player, he's as talented as probably anyone we have in MLS. If he does get on the field we need to limit his ability to run at us one v. one and make sure he doesn't have a chance to turn and get going.”
America may be able to stop him on Saturday, but it couldn't stop him from getting his international career going.
Click below to watch exclusive Goal.com video, shot by Randy Davis, of Alvarez speaking about his national team switch.
Zac Lee Rigg, Goal.com