The self-proclaimed “Lion” has taken a cub.
17-year-old forward Efrain Alvarez has just broken into the LA Galaxy squad, making 10 appearances and five starts this season, but he already has the best teacher any MLS teen can ask for.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has taken Alvarez under his wing, according to Alvarez’s father Cresencio. Zlatan treats Alvarez “as if he was his cub,” Cresencio – or “Chencho” – told ESPN’s Tom Marshall in his recent profile of the budding Galaxy youth product.
Alvarez, who grew up in Los Angeles just minutes away from the LA Galaxy facilities and Dignity Health Sports Park and signed a professional contract with the Galaxy at 15 years old, knows how lucky he is to have such an experienced an prolific striker be his mentor and guide.
“[Zlatan] is such a cool guy,” Alvarez told ESPN. “Since I met him the first day, he always wanted to help me. I met him and he started giving me advice, and once you hear advice from him, you want to learn. He knows what it takes. He even said, ‘If you need help, I’ll help you; I just want the best for you. I know the potential you have, so I’m coming to help you; I’m not coming to hurt you or damage you. Other players, I kill them, but with you I see potential, so I’m trying to help you.'”
Alvarez now faces a very real decision in the coming years. As the son of Mexican immigrants born in Los Angeles, he played for the U.S. youth national team starting at the age of 12, but switched to Mexico at 15 years old at the behest of a home visit from then-youth director Juan Carlos Ortega. He tells ESPN of his disdain for his time with the U.S. setup and “how they treated me,” although he did not go into more detail.
Still, it’s possible for him to switch back to the United States, something his father said is clearly on the cards, even meeting with Gregg Berhalter sometime in 2019 to discuss the U.S. vision. At this point though, “the focus right now is Mexico,” Alvarez tells ESPN.
With Zlatan at his back, it’s a good bet the kid will be ready to take on whatever challenges come his way.