Carlos Alvarez became in many respects the symbol of Chivas USA's "new era" in 2013. Taken second overall in the MLS SuperDraft after Chelís publicly lauded the midfielder, Alvarez had enjoyed a successful career at top college program UConn before returning to his hometown club, Chivas. Though many remarked that the Goats reached in taking Alvarez so high in the draft, the team did not feel that way, as the youngster became a fixture in the lineup during his rookie season.
One of the interesting developments in 2013 was Alvarez's emergence in the lineup. Though Chelís did not play him in the first two games of the season, he provided one of the best moments of the season in his debut, against the LA Galaxy, when he came off the bench and scored the equalizer to give 10-man Chivas a hard fought point in the SuperClasico. From there, he didn't look back, featuring in all but three matches for the rest of the season (and he was suspended for two of those).
Chivas had a plethora of midfielders, but in fact Alvarez was their only true central attacking midfielder, which surely helped pave the way for his status as a regular starter. In that respect, I suppose it was inevitable that he would see plenty of action. But for the most part, Alvarez performed pretty well as the guy pushing the attack forward. And while goals were not easy to come by, Alvarez did finish tied for third on the team in goals and second on the squad in assists, both in league play. He was also the only player to both score and set up a goal in Chivas' brief U.S. Open Cup run in 2013.
Here are Alvarez's statistics in 2013:
|Games Played||Games Started||Minutes||Goals||Assists||Shots||SOG||Yellow Cards||Red Cards|
|MLS Regular Season||29||26||2,182||2||3||35||10||5||0|
|U.S. Open Cup||2||2||210||1||1||1||1||1||0|
Among the drawbacks in Alvarez's game in 2013 was his occasional needless aggression and his habit of drifting out of games. On the first count, he went beyond disruption at times to pick up silly yellow cards. It's a fine line, and gamesmanship certainly is part of the game, but he could be reckless at times, which led to the two-game ban for kicking a ball at an opponent in the loss to Sporting Kansas City, a game that was arguably the turning point in Chivas' season.
On the second matter, I'm not sure if that is a feature of his game or rather a regular part of the process for a rookie seeing so many minutes. For now, I'm inclined to believe it is the latter, as he most likely hit the proverbial rookie wall and still came to play week in and week out. In order for him to become a real force, he'll need to work on his consistency and ability to influence each and every game.
Though he didn't take many free kicks, he actually showed some aptitude at that skill, something that was a problem for Chivas again in 2013. Although I'm not sure why he didn't take them most of the time, I do hope he can work on developing that further. Right now, it seems almost certain Mauro Rosales will take set pieces for the team, but if he's out of the game, Alvarez could become the lieutenant on set piece duty.
Overall, Alvarez showed considerable promise in heavy minutes in his first season, though he didn't yet show he could be a game changer in this league. Still, the 23-year-old showed he has the endurance, and frequently the skills, to be a regular.
Alvarez is still under contract, and from all appearances he'll be back with Chivas for 2014. With Rosales' arrival, it will be interesting as well to see if Alvarez will continue in central midfield and if Rosales will play on the right, as he did with the Seattle Sounders, or if Rosales will slot in the middle. Rosales will be called upon to be the team's playmaker, if healthy, and that means Alvarez may or may not see regular minutes in the coming season. Still, it could be good for him to learn the role from an experienced veteran, and not have the pressure of essentially carrying the attack, as he sometimes did in 2013.
I wouldn't go as far to call 2014 a make-or-break season for Alvarez, but obviously it would be great to show considerable improvement. If he can get to the point that he forces the coach to put him in the lineup, then he will fully deserve the number two pick mantle. But if he can even show growth, that should help his, and the team's, prospects.
Last year, Chelís claimed Alvarez would head to Chivas de Guadalajara at some point in his career to play in Liga MX. While I'm not sure if that is still part of the organization's plans, it is something to keep an eye on. Though Chelís claimed it could happen as soon as this year, Alvarez looks set to continue in MLS, and from all appearances should be one of the building blocks of the team, if only we could see a good team built around him.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!