photo courtesy FC Tucson
By Jose M. Romero / @RomeroJoseM
For Fox Deportes
TUCSON, Ariz. – Max Alvarez wanted to stay sharp going into his senior season of soccer at Sacramento State, so he looked for a team to play for in the summer.
He thought about going back East. He considered heading north to Portland, Ore., to play for the Timbers U-23s. But in the end, he chose first-year United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League franchise FC Tucson, a club playing its first year in the U.S. soccer fourth division.
Alvarez (wearing black in photo) chose wisely despite the searing desert summer heat. The forward is an integral part of FC Tucson’s attack, and has helped his club clinch a playoff spot. The postseason starts soon after the team’s final regular-season match Friday, July 13.
“This was a better fit for me,” Alvarez said. “The style of play was more ‘touch football’ and I feel comfortable here.”
Alvarez, 21, is from Napa, Calif., and roots for CD Chivas de Guadalajara in Mexico’s Primera Division. He’s played the fourth-most minutes on for FC Tucson, and more importantly, has appeared in 14 matches for a team in a league where rosters are frequently adjusted. Players come and go, and it’s very rare to find someone who has been with the team since before the first game of the season. They don’t get paid, but they get a place to live, soccer equipment and some meals at the team facility.
At the PDL level, you’re either a college player trying to add to your resume, or one of a handful of veterans out of school and labeled “over-age” trying to stay in the game, hopefully playing well enough to continue your career.
With so many comings and goings and players from all over the West and other places, building team chemistry was a big challenge, Alvarez said.
“The first couple of weeks, we had trouble remembering names and stuff like that. But half the team lives in these apartments so we get a good chance to know each other well,” Alvarez said.
It’s like an extended summer camp. Soccer practice in the morning, then after leaving the facility, playing pool (or lounging near one) and video games or going to the movies. Paid gigs working youth soccer camps take up some of the players’ time leading up to game nights.
The NCAA allows college players to play on PDL teams as long as they aren’t being paid by the clubs.
Alvarez just hopes to play professionally at a higher level of soccer, he said. His father played in Mexico and in an adult league in Napa, and Max started soccer when he was 7 years old.
He’s looking forward to seeing one of his favorite players, midfielder Marco Fabian of Chivas, represent Mexico in the Olympics in London this summer. But first there is the PDL playoffs, a chance for Alvarez to play more soccer leading up to when he must return to Sacramento for his last college season.
Goalkeeping and defending have been FC Tucson’s strengths this season, coach Rick Schantz said, but Alvarez, who plays on the left side up front, brings skills to the lineup that include a knack for “deadly” free kicks.
“Amazing left foot, good dribbler and a hard worker,” Schantz said. “We think we’ve really helped him become an all-around player.”