Chivas USA once again looked to its new trading partner and sent attacking midfielder Carlos Alvarez to the Colorado Rapids for midfield journeyman Nathan Sturgis. The move came as a bit of a shock to some considering Alvarez's age and potential, but at the same time, coach Wilmer Cabrera brought in a versatile player who fills his roster's needs.
Carlos Alvarez was the CUSA prototype
Its almost as if it was scripted. Here's a local Mexican-American soccer talent, not only drafted by his hometown team, but a team with deep connections to his father's time as a soccer professional with Chivas de Guadalajara. Chivas USA wanted him so much that then coach Chelis left no doubt that Alvarez would be the team's selection with the 2nd pick in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft.
"Has his head up," Chelís said prior to the 2013 draft. "And before he receives the ball, he knows what he's going to do with it. He goes forward. He's young. He's Mexican-American. From Los Angeles. His dad played for Chivas."
It's almost as if Alvarez fit the Vergara model to a T. Attacking player good with the ball? Check. From Los Angeles? Great. Mexican-American? Fantastic. His dad played for Chivas? Amazing. The fit was so perfect that Chelis decided to spill the beans days before the draft and exclaim to the media that he wanted Alvarez at the expense of sacrificing any trade leverage.
In any case, Alvarez went on to make his professional debut against the hated Galaxy, scoring a dramatic equalizer in the 89th minute. The then-22 year old became an instant folk hero in his first appearance as a Goat.
Fans were ecstatic. Carlos was hungry for more. The potential was there.
The team started off strong that year, going 3-1-1 in their first 5 games of the season, and things seemed to be going great for the youngster. So what happened? Why would a player with that much influence and in only his 2nd year in the league be traded for a 26-year-old journeyman who hasn't been able to stick on a roster?
Roster Upgrades a Problem for Alvarez
Alvarez is a player that prefers to dribble in open space and isn't shy to take a long shot at goal. His decision making in the final third has improved since last season, but his overall passing accuracy, his touch on the ball in tight spaces, and ability to make that final key pass on the attack have still been lacking.
As a rookie, Alvarez was the only true creative attacking midfielder on the roster and as a result, he saw lots of playing time, starting 26 games in 29 appearances. Despite finishing the season with 2 goals and 3 assists, he appeared to be a big part of the team going forward.
In 2014, with the change of front office and coaching staff, Alvarez's role has diminished as a result of the influx of new teammates as well as a tactical switch that has the team playing more defensively. The additions of Mauro Rosales, Thomas McNamara, and Martin Rivero have all eaten into Alvarez's minutes in the middle, while Leandro Barrera, Marvin Chavez, and Eric Avila provide even more depth along all attacking aspects of the midfield. As a result, Alvarez has seen the most of his work as a replacement to injured/suspended players and has been limited to 7 starts through 16 weeks of play with very little production to regain Cabrera's trust. Wilmer Cabrera's preference for the 4-2-3-1 leaves little room for creative attack-minded players like Alvarez, and instead calls for more of a box-to-box midfielder that can not only attack, but drop deep and defend next to the designated defensive mid.
Sturgis Fills Short-Term Needs, Not Much Else
The addition of MLS journeyman Nathan Sturgis brings Chivas USA a versatile player that can provide depth both in the midfield and on the backline. At the moment, CUSA only has Agustin Pelletieri, Oswaldo Minda, and Marky Delgado as the lone defensive midfielders on the roster and Sturgis provides CUSA much needed depth in that aspect.
Additionally, the recent addition of Japanese defender Akira Kaji gives the Goats some depth at RB, but considering Donny Toia is the only player at the moment that can adequately play both RB and LB, depth was an issue on the left side of the back four (assuming Avila remains in the midfield). Sturgis not only provides that depth in the midfield, but can also step in when needed on the left side of the backline.
Sturgis takes good care of the ball and is a good passer, which could be useful in boosting CUSA's embarrassingly low possession numbers. He has also spent time playing with midfield starters Eric Avila in Toronto and Martin Rivero in Colorado, something that could help chemistry in the midfield.
According to Rapids coach Pablo Mastroeni, "It was a situation where (Chivas USA) was really wanting his services ASAP." One would have to think that if this was the case, the trade was more a case of gaining the services of Sturgis, than getting rid of Alvarez.
Only Time Will Tell
The common response to the trade was that at 23 years of age, Alvarez still has much more potential to develop compared to a player like Sturgis, who appears to have reached his ceiling. On the other hand, with two Cabrera guys in Rivero (24 years old) and McNamara (20 years old) above Alvarez in the depth chart, the question is when would that opportunity to develop ever happen with Chivas? Also, the signing of 20-year-old Matt Dunn, who has yet to dress, could be a sign of what's to come. If anything, Alvarez moving to Colorado could be the best option for him, that is, as long he doesn't get lost in their shuffle as well.
The biggest issue is that the 26-year-old Sturgis been shipped around to seven teams since he was drafted in 2006, leaving CUSA fans wondering if his move to LA will be another short-lived stay. If that's the case, the Alvarez move should be considered a failure.
Additional Note: With the arrival of Wilmer Cabrera, the roster now features 2 other 2013 MLS SuperDraft picks in Ryan Finley (9) and Eriq Zavaleta (10). Carlos Alvarez was selected 2nd.
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