MEXICO CITY -- When americanistas hear the name of Edson Alvarez, there's a scene that immediately comes to their minds.
It's the 95th minute of extra time, the stadium is Tigres' El Volcan, the year is 2016, and Las Aguilas are seconds away from closing their centennial year -- and what better way to do it than in an Apertura final? Alvarez rose above Tigres' defense and connected with a header that gave America a 1-0 lead. America's faithful felt another title coming their way, but Tigres tied the score in the 119th minute via Jesus Duenas and in penalties trashed America 3-0.
"Imagine if America had won that league title thanks to Alvarez's goal," more than one americanista laments. Alvarez was minutes away from becoming America's centennial hero.
Since his league debut on Oct. 29th, 2016, Alvarez's rise to stardom has been unstoppable. Just in the last three months, he has played in South Korea with Mexico's under-20 team; attended a five-star training camp in Russia, where he trained with Mexico's Confederations Cup team; and participated in the Gold Cup, in which he played 384 minutes.
His contributions as a right-back in the recent Gold Cup, where Mexico lost 1-0 to Jamaica in the semifinals, can be described as valiant because although the right-back position is one that he has played with America, Alvarez feels and looks more in control of the game when placed as a center-back or central defensive midfielder.
Former America manager Ricardo La Volpe saw in Alvarez traits that reminded of him of Franz Beckenbauer.
"Edson is a spectacular center-back because he's not only good at marking, but he gives me great mobility of the ball from the back," La Volpe told ESPN MX in early January. "He can easily slot in as a defensive midfielder like Franz Beckenbauer. He's the kind of player that I can't block his progression for a more experienced player."
When looking closely at Alvarez, who will wear America's No. 4 in the present season, it's hard to imagine that at one point he was close on giving up on his dream of becoming a professional footballer.
At the age of 14, he was cut from Pachuca's academy due to his lack of height. "The hardest hit I've experienced was when I was cut from Pachuca because it was my family's dream to see me play there. I said to myself, 'I'm never going to play football again.' I was very disillusioned," he noted.
But even after that hard hit, he picked himself up. When he was 16 he had a tryout with America and got accepted.
Alvarez, now 19, is from Tlalnepantla de Baz, a town right outside the metropolitan area of Mexico City. There, Alvarez experienced instances that have shaped his leadership qualities, which stand out when he steps onto the pitch. When La Volpe had already debuted him in the first division, Alvarez was still taking the metro and buses to get to his home; he would spend three to four hours a day traveling from his home to America's training grounds and vice versa.
This summer will be one that he will always have to look back to because of the events that he was put in. It's rare for a Mexican youngster to be specifically taken to a tournament to just train and learn from Mexico's best players. In February, Alvarez shared his admiration for Rafael Marquez when he was given his first ever senior national team call-up. "I would like to one day be like him," Alvarez said.
"I've had the opportunity to play against him, and I told him that he's my idol. To still have him in the national team gives us a lot of motivation. I want to learn as much as I can from him."
Juan Carlos Osorio's decision to invite Alvarez to train with the Confederations Cup team allowed him to be close to Marquez, and in those training sessions, Alvarez had to be like a vacuum taking in all the ideas and styles that Osorio asked him to perform.
What makes Alvarez a special talent is his versatility. It's important that at the start of his career he's being put in scenarios as a right-back, center-back and defensive midfielder. With more experience in critical situations, he'll be able to master all three of those positions. In the Gold Cup, he even scored a goal.
"It's a dream, really," he told ESPN MX. "I didn't expect to score a goal that fast in my career. Actually, before the Gold Cup started, I set as one of my goals to score a goal. Now that I've accomplished it, I feel happy. But I just want to continue helping out the team whenever I get opportunities. When I scored the goal, I felt a similar sensation as when I scored in the final against Tigres."
Alvarez is scheduled to make his 2017 Apertura debut against Pachuca, and even before the Gold Cup started, reports in Mexico suggested that after Alvarez's U20 World Cup participation, America received transfer inquiries from European clubs for him. America's intention is to keep him until next summer, and it's highly possible that Osorio will include Alvarez's name on next year's World Cup list. If he's given the opportunity, he'll be more than ready to take advantage of it.