Imagine you flew thousands of miles from a big city to a rural area that cannot be more foreign. You’ve played soccer your entire life and now you’re ready to showcase your skills in America with the hopes of landing a scholarship to play the sport you love at the next level.
Imagine a pandemic unlike anything any of us have seen in our lifetime, cancelling the moment you looked forward to the most and robbing you of your chance to make any impression on college coaches and recruiters.
That is the situation a senior foreign exchange student in Douglas finds himself in.
Jose Alvarez grew up playing soccer in Cali, Colombia. Cali can not be more different than Douglas. Where Douglas is a small town in America’s heartland, Cali is a major metropolitan city with a population of 3.4 million (about six times the size of the state of Wyoming), the third most populous city in Colombia after Bogotá and Medellín.
Where Douglas is situated in the mountains with high winds and brutal winters, Cali is a on the Pacific Ocean, with the temperature almost unchanged throughout the year at 85 during the day and mid-60’s at night.
“Douglas is very different from where I come from. I was getting used to the cold weather but now that the temperature is rising I love it,” Alvarez said. “The entire atmosphere is very different. (Douglas) is the first time I have seen a street with no traffic. Every one knows each other and everything is so close. It showed me there are things only seen in big cities.”
One thing that came with him from home is his love for soccer. In Colombia, like most places outside of America, fútbol is the biggest and most important sport.
“I think it’s more in the culture in Colombia,” Alvarez said. “Soccer is the biggest sport so people grow up playing and the level is really good. There were some good players here on the team and the most important thing for me was that we do our best.”
Alvarez arrived in America in August to begin the school year, and even though he joined the swim team, has been waiting for the soccer season with excitement since he arrived. He was poised to bring a much needed breath of fresh air to the Bearcat squad, which struggled to a 3-13 record last season. This year, though, they had some returning seniors, including 2019 All-Conference selection Travis Tigert.
Although the team was only allowed to practice for a short time before COVID-19 forced social distancing guidelines barring groups of 10 or more individuals, Alvarez still impressed head coach Clay Ewing.
“From what I saw, his ball skill and field awareness are top quality,” Ewing said of the midfielder. “He is a great team player with the flexibility to move around the field. Another thing I noticed in the short time we practiced together was his work ethic. Every day he goes to the field. He not only works on ball skills, but he commits to staying in shape. This situation is unfortunate for him. He really wants a chance to play (college) in the US, and he would have really shone for us this season.”
“The season being cancelled was very frustrating,” Alvarez said about the Wyoming High School Activities Association decision to cancel spring sports. “It was the moment I was waiting for since I came to Douglas, and there was nothing I could do about it.”
Alvarez hasn’t let the cancellation stop him from pursuing his goal. He jogs to the field from his home on any day the weather permits and runs himself through two hours of drills. For the past three weeks he has been emailing college coaches asking about the recruiting process in hopes of getting a scholarship. He believes that if he had a chance to play this spring, he would have been offered one already. Despite that, he is willing to try to be a walk-on a team to prove himself.
With the prices of American colleges, he will not be able to afford trying to play as a walk-on without an academic scholarship, so he may be forced to move back to Columbia for his university years.
So far he hasn’t heard back from any coaches or recruiters, but believes he just needs one coach to take a chance on him.
“I could bring a new culture to my team,” Alvarez said. “They will get 100% of my skills, dedication and support. I would tell (a coach) to give me a week to demonstrate my skills, my strength, my vision of the game and my team work. I think that would be more convincing than anything else.”