Las Vegas Lights FC goalkeeper Angel Alvarez made his professional soccer debut on Feb. 13 in a preseason game against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The 20-year-old stood in front of his goal at Cashman Field with thousands of screaming fans at his back. The stadium is less than one mile away from Rancho High School, where Alvarez played just two years ago.
Amongst the sea of fans painted in blue, yellow and pink are nearly 50 of Alvarez’s closest family and friends. Everyone from his proud mother and father, to his brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, high school teammates and even his barber.
“My biggest dream has always been to play professional soccer,” Alvarez said. “I’ve been looking for an opportunity and I’m just so glad that it came in my hometown around all of my family and friends.”
Alvarez made nine saves for the Lights in that game, and continues to impress the coaching staff during the preseason.
The youngest player on the team, he will compete with fellow goalkeeper Ricardo Ferriño for the starting job.
“Angel is very agile and he is a very hard worker,” Lights coach Jose Luis Sànchez Solà said. “He’s a great competitor for our other goalie, Ferriño. Once we got (Alvarez) I knew we didn’t need a third goalie. For me it’s very good to have competition at the position. I like having the question of which goalie will play each game because competition is good.”
Alvarez was born and raised in Las Vegas, and starred at Rancho High. He continued his soccer career in Kirtland, Ohio, at Lakeland Community College. As a freshman Alvarez was named first team all-region before transferring to Laramie County Community College in Wyoming.
Nearing the end of his sophomore year Alvarez’s soccer future was in serious doubt.
“I was nervous and I didn’t know what was going to be the next step in my career and I definitely wanted to continue playing soccer while still going to school,” said Alvarez, who had been offered by a few Division II schools, but no Division I. “When I heard there was a professional team starting up back in my hometown I wanted to leave school to come out to open tryouts. But at the same time it was around finals week so I knew if I did this it would hurt me back at school.”
Alvarez chose to stay in Wyoming and take his tests, missing the Lights’ open tryouts where more than 500 players showed up to showcase their skills, vying for a chance with the team.
Solà and goaltending coach Romilio Gomez weren’t satisfied with the goalies, and began asking coaches around the Las Vegas Valley if there were any keepers they could recommend. Alvarez’s name constantly came up, and Gomez gave him a call.
“I didn’t think twice,” Alvarez said. “I asked when and where.”
He joined the Lights just before preseason, and started two of the three games in goal.
From playing community college soccer in Wyoming, to stopping Major League Soccer players for his hometown team, Alvarez’s life has changed quickly.
“Things are very different,” he said. “Now I understand that it’s not enough to just work for the three hours at practice, you have to put in the extra work outside of the field. You have to take care of your body and rest more.”
When Las Vegas was granted the expansion team for the United Soccer League, owner Brett Lashbrook vowed to have at least one local player on the team at all times. Alvarez is one of six on the current roster.
“This is a city that’s hungry for soccer,” Solà said. “I don’t have a problem to have two, or three, or six local players. It’s great.”
With the preseason now over, the Lights’ prepare for the first game in franchise history on March 17 in Fresno. A week later they’ll play their home opener at Cashman Field against Reno 1868 FC, and Alvarez will have plenty of support in the stands.
He said he’ll be looking up into the stands at his parents, knowing they’re the reason he made it to this point.
“It’s really relieving for me to know that everything they did paid off,” Alvarez said. “They always sacrificed to send me to tournaments. They paid the club fees, bought me cleats, goaltender gloves which aren’t cheap, and all of that. Finally they can see that after everything they put in to me that I can give back. I’m happy to know that they’re happy for me.”