Max Alvarez patrolled Sacramento State’s soccer fields for years in green and gold, but on Wednesday he will be back sporting a whole new kit.
The star Sacramento Republic FC midfielder returns Feb. 24 to the field where he made his mark in Hornet history, just before he launched his professional career with the franchise that is reshaping the Sacramento sports entertainment landscape.
Alvarez has come a long way since his career as one of Sacramento State soccer’s most prolific all-around players: Earlier this month, he kicked off his third season with Sacramento Republic FC, the region’s fastest growing sports franchise that has already won a league championship, shattered attendance records, and sparked a concerted multi-million dollar effort for a Major League Soccer expansion bid.
“It’s crazy how quickly the team has developed in such a short time, how many fans we had before even touching a ball,” Alvarez says. “It just goes to show how there’s a lot of support for soccer in this city. … It’s something special.”
Wednesday’s exhibition match between Republic FC and Sacramento State at Hornet Field is one of the first of a season in which Sacramento’s deep soccer roots could take on a whole new significance.
With a possible announcement as early as this fall, the city awaits Major League Soccer’s decision on whether to award the capital region its first major sports franchise since the Kings moved in 30 years ago. Extensive groundwork has been set down, and in December 2015 the Sacramento City Council unanimously approved a preliminary term sheet to build a Major League Soccer stadium at the North Sacramento Railyards.
On the field, it is hard to top what Republic has accomplished since its inaugural season in 2014, when it stormed its way straight to the United Soccer League championship – a run that included the now-famous “Miracle at Bonney” semifinal over rival LA Galaxy II – while setting a USL attendance records across the board. In 2015, Republic again made the playoffs while breaking its own attendance mark. The team has sold out every home game, and team officials capped season tickets at 9,500 in 2015 to ensure open seats at matches.
In 2016, Republic is on the brink of taking the next step into MLS; for Alvarez, it has been a rapid rise to local fame that almost didn’t happen.
He enrolled at Sacramento State in 2009 after an otherworldly high school career (he scored 42 goals as a senior for Napa Valley High School), following in the footsteps of his brother. From 2009 to 2012, Alvarez racked up the fifth-most assists, fourth-most goals, and third-most points in school history, twice leading the Hornets to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. He graduated with a communications degree in 2013, the same year soccer returned to the capital region.
After going undrafted out of college, Alvarez was one of just two members of the inaugural 2014 squad who were hand-selected from open tryouts, beating out hundreds of other players for a spot on Republic. Since then, he has established himself on one of the league’s most competitive teams.
“The [Sacramento State] coaching staff has a lot to do with the player I am now,” Alvarez says. “They helped me develop not only as a player – technically, tactically – but just as a human being as well. That’s very important, especially at this level. You’ve got to be a great person; you’ve got to get along with your teammates. You get players coming in and out every day, and it’s important to get that chemistry. If you’re a good person and you get along with your teammates, you’re going to succeed.”
Alvarez has personally had an inside look into the hurricane of momentum and support that has enveloped Republic since the beginning. Soccer-starved Sacramento fans have poured support into the team and contributed to the energy that could culminate in the ultimate prize later this year: A place among the nation’s best teams in MLS.
When Alvarez returns to Sacramento State to play against his alma mater at 3 p.m. Wednesday, it is hard not to reflect on all that has happened for the young player, the team, and the region since he last took the field in green and gold.
Even so, it could all serve as the start of something even greater, though that remains to be seen as Republic awaits the decision of MLS later this year. Until then, Alvarez is just enjoying every minute of the ride.
“I look forward to every single game we play, trainings every day, just this whole experience,” he says. “This is like a dream.”
Tickets for Republic FC’s Feb. 24 match against Sacramento State are available through the Hornet Ticket Office.
Read more about Max and watch his video at csus.edu.
Photo by Jessica Vernone/Sacramento State