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SSFC Spotlight: Alejandro Alvarado Jr. gaining momentum in Portugal

The dual-national midfielder is developing with Vizela.

Liga Portugal Bwin Portraits Photo by MB Media/Getty Images

The United States qualified for the 2023 U-20 World Cup with a strong performance at the 2022 CONCACAF U-20 Championship, waltzing through the knockout rounds and defeating the Dominican Republic in the final. The tournament provided a glimpse at a few intriguing prospects, including those who had yet to fully break through at the club level. One player who received a fair amount of attention is Alejandro Alvarado Jr., a dual-national competing abroad in Portugal. The 19-year-old Vizela midfielder is beginning to earn regular playing time with the first team and could be poised for a step forward after the extended international break.

Alvarado was born in Los Angeles and joined the LA Galaxy Academy in 2016. He was promoted to the reserve team in 2020. During his first season, the midfielder made 13 appearances, completed 79% of his passes, and scored his first goal, a late equalizer in a 1-1 draw against the San Diego Loyal.

In June of 2021, Alvarado signed with F.C. Vizela of the Portuguese Primeira Liga, which features fellow American Alex Mendez, and mostly played with the club’s reserve squad. “The reason of me leaving [the Galaxy] and taking that next step was I really didn’t have an option,” he told Tactical Manager TV. “They didn’t offer me a contract, and I had to look elsewhere. I didn’t have an option to stay and play in the MLS or stay and play in the USL because there wasn’t really an option given to me. We made the choice to leave and look elsewhere. It was a big leap. There [were] opportunities and trials to come in Portugal, Spain. And we decided to come to Portugal and have a trial here in Vizela… Look where we’re at now. It was a good choice, and thankfully everything [went well] in the trial.”

After being named to the match-day squad in October, he was given his first-team debut the next month, starting at center midfielder against CF Estrela in the fourth round of the Taça de Portugal domestic cup competition. Four more appearances followed, including another start in a 1-0 loss to SC Braga, becoming the “only U-20 non-Portuguese player to start in the league.”

This season, Alvarez has been a rotational member of the roster, lining up at a variety of positions. He has made seven reserve team appearances and featured a further six times for the senior squad, mostly as a substitute. Prior to the World Cup, the manager deployed him in the domestic Allianz Cup, starting against Chaves. The first Primeira goal is inching closer, as local media outlets note that the midfielder has looked dangerous. His recent blasted finish against Braga in the Liga Revelação portends future success.

At the international level, Alvarado is eligible for the United States and Mexico and began receiving call-ups to the former program for the U-14 team. Manager Mikey Varas named him to the 20-player roster for the 2022 CONCACAF U-20 Championship. The teenager started in the opening match, earned a penalty during the 10-0 victory over Saint Kitts and Nevis, and ultimately made six appearances while contributing a nifty goal and assist. He is expected to be a key presence during next year’s 2023 U-20 World Cup in Indonesia.

“It’s an amazing feeling, mostly coming to Honduras, we had an objective,” Alvarado said after scoring in the semifinal. “Qualified to the World Cup, we accomplished that, and then we focused on qualifying to the Olympics. And tonight, we were able to do that in Honduras against Honduras and putting in an amazing team performance… I just wanted to thank the coaching staff for the confidence they gave in me and the team for bringing me in and welcoming me to the squad, and I just give it my all. I’m a player that likes attack, likes to defend, and give it all for the team.”

A box-to-box midfielder who can also line up at winger, Alvarado makes himself available all over the field with an expansive heatmap. He often operates from a deeper position, dropping all the way to the back line to serve as a safety valve and start possession build-ups. His aerial duel and shot attempt statistics have improved from last season, pointing to a growing presence and a willingness to insert himself into proceedings that comes with experience. Accurate long-range shooting is a true asset, trailing behind the run of play and taking advantage of the space in front of the box.

“Alex is a really well-rounded player but I think it is his ball carrying ability that I like the most,” writes Marcus Chairez for Chasing a Cup. “He is really smooth on the half turn and he knows how to break lines with his dribbling ability and more often than not he releases the ball at the right moments. One of the other areas of Alex’s game that I really admire is his work rate and toughness, but sometimes that aggressiveness lacks control and he can go into challenges erratically. In order for him to stay on the field more by not accumulating cards and injuries, I’d like to see him be a little more precise and measured with his tackles.”

Next year will be a busy slate of competitions for those hoping to scout the next generation of American talent, including multiple youth World Cups and a CONCACAF Gold Cup. Alvarado is in line to be on the roster for one of the former competitions and could possibly play his way into contention for the latter. He is on a distinctly upward trajectory and continues to develop in a country known for producing talent. With a strong second half of the season, the teenager will continue to build hype and launch himself into a higher echelon of prospects.