American playing for El Salvador in Cup qualifier
PROVO, Utah -- El Salvador midfielder Arturo Alvarez will know his opponents well in Saturday's World Cup qualifier against the United States.
Many of them were teammates with Alvarez on U.S. national youth teams. Born and raised in Houston, Alvarez is an American who switched his soccer citizenship when El Salvador -- his parents' native country -- invited him to join the national team.
Although he had played on under-20 U.S. national teams, an invitation to the U.S. senior team did not appear to be coming anytime soon. The 24-year-old decided to take advantage of FIFA's softened restrictions on players switching from one country to another.
"It was an opportunity that came up. I saw it as a good one," said Alvarez, who plays for the San Jose Earthquakes in Major League Soccer and is away from the club for Saturday and another qualifier next Wednesday against Costa Rica in San Salvador.
Coach Carlos de los Cobos added Alvarez to the roster, hoping to continue El Salvador's quick turnaround from foundering only a few years ago to still having a slim chance this late in qualifying. Los Cuscatlecos last played in the World Cup in 1982.
The Salvadorans have been practicing this week at BYU, about 30 miles south of where the game will be played Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Alvarez said he grew up following El Salvador soccer because his father was still a big fan after moving to the United States. He said once he got the invitation to join the El Salvador national team, it was an easy decision: He was becoming part of his father's favorite team and getting a chance at top-level international competition.
The only drawback is he will be playing as a visitor in his home country on Saturday night.
"I've played against those guys many a times. I've played with them as well, but obviously now times have changed," Alvarez said. "I'm part of the El Salvador team. Hopefully we can go in and get a good result against the U.S."
Several former teammates will be in the U.S. lineup on Saturday.
U.S. star Landon Donovan remembered when Alvarez first reached the MLS as a rookie with the Earthquakes in 2003.
"He always had a lot of potential. I think he's done a really good job of becoming a real professional now. He's done very well," Donovan said. "I'm excited for him, but I won't be wishing him too much luck on Saturday."
Alvarez was not with the team when the United States and El Salvador played in March, when the Americans rallied from a 2-0 deficit and salvaged a 2-2 tie.
Alvarez made his debut for El Salvador last month in a 1-0 loss to Trinidad and Tobago. After years of playing in international youth games, he was on a club that was trying to reach the World Cup next summer in South Africa.
"It was an amazing feeling. It was my first qualifying game ever. It was great," Alvarez said. "I was a little nervous at first, but once I got in there I realized it was just another soccer game."
El Salvador and Trinidad and Tobago are tied for last in the North and Central American and the Caribbean group, both with a record of 1-3-2 for five points. The top three teams in the group qualify and the fourth-place team will have a chance to make it in a playoff against the No. 5 team from South America.
It's still possible for El Salvador, but time is quickly running out to make a move in the standings. After the Americans and next week against Costa Rica, El Salvador closes out qualifying next month against Mexico and Honduras.