Lights FC goalkeeper Angel Alvarez attempts to control the action in front of the net during Lights FC's Soccer Spring Training showdown with Major League Soccer's D.C. United at Cashman Field on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018. (L.E. Baskow / Lights FC)
Lights FC goalkeeper Angel Alvarez
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The last few Saturday nights at Cashman Field have provided some surreal moments for Lights FC goalkeeper Angel Alvarez.
There was the time he was announced for the first start of his professional career as “Las Vegas’s own” to an eruption of cheers, doing so just down the street from where he starred just a few years ago at Rancho High School.
There were the times he’d be concentrating on the action in front of him, and realize he was competing against the likes of Efrain Juarez, Kei Kamara and Paul Arriola.
And there have been the waves of family, friends and local supporters he can hear encouraging him from not too far away while defending his post – between 30 and 50 at each game so far, by his estimation.
“Dreams can start anywhere,” said the 20-year-old Alvarez – the youngest member of the Lights FC roster. “When I was in high school, my goal was to become a professional soccer player. It’s crazy to think that I used to play my high school games a mile away from where I play my pro games now.
“I get a lot of messages from kids now on social media, asking “Did you really go to Rancho High School?” and “Did you really go to Roy Martin Middle School?” I tell them yeah, and it doesn’t matter where you play. It matters what you put into it, because that’s what you’ll get from the game.”
Hard work met great opportunity for Alvarez, who was invited to Lights FC training camp after two years of collegiate soccer by the club’s goalkeeper coach Romilio Gomez, who kept hearing Alvarez’s name while asking coaches around the Las Vegas valley about potential goalie prospects to groom. Alvarez was named as the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s 2015 Southeast League Goalkeeper of the Year as a senior.
His consistent, focused daily approach throughout the preseason has drawn the confidence of Lights FC head coach Chelís, who is loving what the competition between Alvarez and veteran keeper Ricardo Ferriño is bringing out of both players.
In Chelís’s view, what Alvarez lacks in professional experience, he makes up for it in several other areas.
“When I arrived, I thought about having three goalkeepers,” he said. “I knew Ferriño, but when I looked more at Alvarez, I said ‘the competition is for two – Alvarez and Ferriño.’
“(Alvarez) is very quick and concentrates. Maybe his mistakes come from the (lack of) experience. He’s very agile. His head stays in the field. He stays very concentrated.”
Re-paying Chelís’s confidence in him has been paramount for Alvarez. He’s shown true flashes of his potential so far in the preseason, while also committing a few rookie mistakes along the way. Quickly learning not to repeat those mistakes is what Alvarez considers the biggest eye-opener to this point in his young pro career.
“In the college game, you can have one bad kick, one bad decision coming out for the ball, maybe it still goes over your head,” he said. “Here, you can’t. Here, you pay for it. With the skill we have played against in the preseason, they punish you for any mistake you make. That’s what I’ve learned at the professional level. You can lose the opportunity and the confidence you’ve gotten from your teammates and your coaches.”
While also learning the ropes as a pro, Alvarez has also enjoyed playing a featured role as one of five current members of the Lights FC preseason roster with Las Vegas roots.
Alvarez was born and raised in Las Vegas, and believes that his example of succeeding after taking a chance on himself through a training camp invite can motivate kids all over the valley.
“Just being here is special – Having Chelís’s confidence in me, to represent his team and his weekly work, it definitely motivates me to know I’m one of the few Vegas guys on the team,” Alvarez said. “I had the confidence, I believed in myself, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and it hasn’t been easy. There’s been tough competition, other goalkeepers who have pushed me to keep getting better every day, to give the best that I could in every practice, to understand that this is serious now.”
Lights FC goalkeeper Angel Alvarez signs a fan's flag after making his first career pro start against Major League Soccer's Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Cashman Field on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018. (L.E. Baskow / Lights FC)