Like 99.9% of other MLS observers, when I saw that Real Salt Lake traded the no. 22 overall pick in 2011 to Portland for Arturo Alvarez, who they had drafted just a few hours earlier in the expansion draft, my immediate thought was “Wow, what a huge pickup for RSL!” Think for a minute about the fact that GM Garth Lagerwey and Head Coach Jason Kreis can add a 25-year old international player to an already strong midfield is an amazing accomplishment – on top of coming through the expansion draft unscathed.
(SIDENOTE: I’m very happy for David Horst, who proved in Puerto Rico last year what 90 minutes a week could do for a young player. He showed excellent growth throughout the Islanders’ league season and in CONCACAF Champions League. No disrespect to Horst, but the growth of rookie Chris Schuler & Rauwshan McKenzie behind Nat Borchers & Jamison Olave mean that Portland is the best place for him. Even more credit to RSL for allowing Horst the opportunity for the young player to showcase himself and move on. As a player, all you want is opportunity, and this is just another example how the current RSL regime – Garth, Jason, Jeff Cassar, Robin Fraser, Miles Joseph (all ex-MLS players) put the athletes first.)
Getting back to the Alvarez deal and the expansion draft, the more everyone looks at it they should be struck with a huge amount of shock. Going into the Portland/Vancouver draft, I’m sure if you asked a lot of league and team personnel, players, media, everyone, the thinking going in was that RSL would have been picked apart because of all the depth displayed – especially in CONCACAF Champions League - and the excellence on the roster. At the end of the day, sending a pick to Portland that would have been the 22nd-best college or Generation Adidas player – a pick acquired from Chivas for Carey Talley back in 2008 – for Alvarez is simply a phenomenal trade.
Why? Because there are not very many players in MLS - when healthy - that can do what Arturo does. He’s a hybrid player, one who is comfortable wide on either the right or left, but one who can also fit underneath. How many times this season have we seen RSL playmaker Javier Morales knocked around, with Andy Williams and Ned Grabavoy capably filling in? Now Jason Kreis has another guy in Alvarez that he can put on either side of the midfield diamond, or he can even fill in for Morales or Espindola when needed. This is a guy who knows ins and outs of the league, a guy who has punished RSL historically, and now the RSL coaches have more options to utilize a quick, talented, dynamic player who will for the first time in his career be surrounded by so much talent, as he now will be with Morales, Will Johnson, Kyle Beckerman, Williams and Grabavoy.
What makes Alvarez so dangerous is that even when you know he will take the pass or shot with his left foot, he’s the type that when he’s firing on all cylinders, you know what is coming and that you ABSOLUTELY CAN’T STOP IT. Alvarez has a technical ability that very few players in MLS history have had – something familiar to Marco Etcheverry, Carlos Valderrama, Mark Chung. That’s it – that’s the list.
What Arturo Alvarez has to do to succeed in Salt Lake is not just rely on his natural ability but if – when – he buys in to the “Team is the Star” philosophy that pervades the Rio Tinto Stadium locker room, he can very well re-invent himself as a dominating force. We’ve seen it with Ned Grabavoy, when he came over from San Jose. We saw it with Andy Williams when Jason took over. If Alvarez invests into Jason’s required work ethic and commits to the defensive side of ball – and if he can stay healthy – he will provide so many options in both MLS and CONCACAF play.
Follow Brian Dunseth on Twitter @BP_TOW or check out his soccer lifestyle hits at TheOriginalWinger.com and BumpyPitch.com … He can also be seen on MLS broadcasts on Fox Soccer Channel and Real Salt Lake broadcasts on KUTV 2 / MyUtah (2.2 over-the-air / Comcast 111 / Dish 12)