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All-Area Boys Soccer: Alvarez kicks it at home, leads Merced

Christian Alvarez
Christian Alvarez

The combination of surf, sun and soccer was almost too much for the kid with the golden boot.

Cristian Alvarez spent seven months at the IMG Academy in Florida, battling for a roster spot on the under-17 U.S. national team.

His days and nights were filled with practice and games, drilling some of the top players in the country, including a few MLS teams.

When his plane finally touched down in Fresno in August -- marking the end of his residency -- the Merced junior was, well...

Florida fried.

Soccer spent.

"I really didn't know if I was going to play this year," Alvarez said. "I wanted to rest. Over there (in Florida), we played soccer everyday non-stop. We'd have practices and games. It was like that for seven straight months.

"I wanted to play high school, but I was tired. I needed some rest."

It took some heavy arm-twisting by teammates Octavio Murillo and Manuel Garcia-Resendez, but eventually Alvarez came around.

"We told him this was going to be the team -- the all-star team." Garcia-Resendez said.

"The way (Cristian) was talking, he seemed pretty serious. He wanted to stop, not quit, but stop playing soccer for awhile.

"If you take Cristian out (of the equation), it's a much different story for us. Thank God, we convinced him to keep playing."

Good thing, too.

The 2008 season just wouldn't have been the same without the Sun-Star Soccer Player of the Year.

Alvarez scored the biggest goal in school history, lifting Merced to its first Sac-Joaquin Section title with a 1-0 victory over Yolo Davis in the Division I championship.

The victory capped a season to remember for Merced (22-1-2), which pulled off a rare trifecta.

Merced shared the crown at the Modesto Davis preseason tournament, captured the Central California Conference title and then the blue section banner.

"When I came back from Florida, we all talked it over," Alvarez said. "We came up with a goal. We wanted to win all three: the Davis tournament, the CCC and sections.

"And that's what happened."

Alvarez was a dual threat, splitting time on the forward and midfield lines.

He finished with a team-high 23 goals and 11 assists, tallying at least a point in 18 of Merced's 25 games.

"He took over in the playoffs," Merced coach Bart McAfee said. "He played well all year, but he really took control in the playoffs for us."

Merced needed him to.

With a thin bench, and Murillo battling leg injuries, McAfee needed Alvarez to take on a bigger role.

He responded.

Alvarez scored in three of Merced's four playoff games. He also converted a kick in a semifinal victory over Pitman

His signature moment, however, came in the Division I championship under the lights in Folsom.

From the large crowd to the international walk during pregame, the game had a familiar feel for Alvarez -- a veteran of international youth soccer.

"It felt like an international match. The fans, the field, everything. It felt the same; it gave me the same feelings" he said.

"I've played in international matches, and they're all important, but that was important, too.

"That was the first time Merced had made it to a section championship and won. We made history."

Alvarez scored the eventual game-winner on a 35-yard chip in the 44th minute.

"I'm happy he decided to come back," McAfee said. "We would have went on without him, but for us and our success, it was good that he came out.

"It was a big bonus."

A big, blue bonus.

James Burns is sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at jburns@mercedsun-star.com.

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