Part of Gregg Berhalter’s job as U.S. national team coach is to be a salesman.
Efraín Álvarez, an 18-year-old LA Galaxy midfielder, started for Mexico in last year’s final of the Under-17 World Cup and is among several dual nationals at American training camp this week ahead of a Dec. 9 exhibition against El Salvador in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Berhalter will try to persuade them to commit to the U.S. program.
Toronto forward Ayo Akinola (Canada, Nigeria), Orlando forward Daryl Dike (Nigeria), LA Galaxy defender Julian Araujo (Mexico) and Salt Lake goalkeeper David Ochoa (Mexico) are in camp in Fort Lauderdale, along with Orlando midfielder Andrés Perea (Colombia), added to the roster Tuesday after Cincinnati midfielder Frankie Amaya (Mexico) tested positive for COVID-19 when he arrived.
“It’s common in today’s day and age to have players with multi-passports,” Berhalter said. “They’re still young players. They still have the world in front of them, and all we want to do is bring them into our environment and show what our environment is about. And then it’s going to be up to them to make a decision in the end where they end up committing to. And we’ll be fine with whatever decision they make.”
Álvarez and Perea would need a one-time change of affiliation by FIFA to represent the United States.
Álvarez was born in Los Angeles, was 15 when he made his professional debut for the United Soccer League’s LA Galaxy II and 16 when he made his Major League Soccer debut for the Galaxy on March 2, 2019. He scored his first MLS goal against Portland this Sept. 2.
He played for the U.S. Under-15 team before switching to Mexico’s U-15s. He scored four goals in seven matches at the 2017 Under-17 World Cup in Brazil, including a 79th-minute equalizer on a 26-yard free kick against the Netherlands in the semifinals, a game El Tri won on penalty kicks.
“You can say he played for us and then he played for Mexico, and we’re going to hold that against him and we’re never going to call him in again,” Berhalter said. “But that’s not the way we look at it. You’re talking about extremely young players. You’re talking about players with cultural ties to other countries where emotion’s involved. And I can understand a player making a decision like that one time in his career. But for us, again, all it is about is saying, listen, there is an open door and we want to create an environment that players want to be. We want to attract good, quality players and then the rest is up to the player to decide.”
Perea, who was born in Tampa, turned 20 on Nov. 14. He started for Colombia at the 2017 Under-17 World Cup, including a 3-1 group-stage win over the U.S. and a quarterfinal loss to Germany. He started all five matches for Colombia at the 2019 Under-20 World Cup.
“In times like this, I think it’s smart of a player to see what’s out there and to see what’s available,” Berhalter said. “We’re talking about really young players and both of them have a history (with) the United States, but they have ties, cultural ties to other countries. So to me this isn’t an unusual process.”
Berhalter was impressed by Álvarez during training Tuesday.
“You want him to be around the ball — a very creative player, has a good change of pace, very good in tight spaces,” Berhalter said. “I could see him in an attacking midfielder role, in a winger role.”
Berhalter said the U.S. inquired about possibly having out-of-favor Newcastle defender DeAndre Yedlin in camp but that Newcastle would not release him. He also said Inter Miami’s training complex was a possible base for the U.S. team ahead of World Cup qualifiers next year and in 2021 in Central America and the Caribbean.
By RONALD BLUM AP Sports Writer