LOS ANGELES – Alan Rovira has yet to appear in an MLS match, but on Saturday night, he still realized a rare dream: the start of an international career.
The 18-year-old midfielder suited up for the El Salvador National Team for the first time against their biggest rivals, Honduras, in front of more than 15,000 fans draped in blue-and-white at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The Los Angeles Galaxy youth player was in the 18 for La Selecta’s 4-3 penalty-kick shootout loss to Honduras, but was unable to get on the pitch for El Salvador. But although he was left on the bench, Rovira admitted that simply being in the lineup was still the experience of a lifetime.
“It’s nice to get the chance to train with the senior national team and, although I didn’t get on the field, I hope that I will be able to get some time in our next match,” said Rovira after the match. “The coach has told me that as long as I keep my head up and work hard to fit in with the team, then I’ll get my chance on the field.”
A graduate of Simi Valley High School, Rovira played in 20 games for the LA Galaxy U-18 team this season, scoring two goals and allowing him to earn a call up to Salvadoran interim head coach José Luis Rugamas’ squad for a pair of friendlies in the United States.
Rovira represents a youth movement under Rugamas as El Salvador look to build upon their fifth-place finish in the Hexagonal final round of World Cup qualifying for South Africa 2010. Los Cuscatlecos hope the new blood can lead them back to the World Cup for the first time since 1982.
The Galaxy youngster’s recent summons to the squad is also part of a movement that began with San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Arturo Alvarez of bringing in American-born players of Salvadoran descent to represent La Selecta.
For Rovira, the opportunity to train alongside Salvadoran stars like Chivas USA's Osael Romero and former MLSers Ramón Sánchez and Eliseo Quintanilla has been a great learning experience for the youngster.
“We have a great bunch of guys on this squad and the team has welcomed me like I am one of their own,” said Rovira. “It’s just great because they’ve made me feel like I have been on this team for a very long time.”
The experience with La Selecta is one that Rovira hopes can lead to his own maturation as a player. While it may be unusual for a youth player to be on the roster of a full national team, according to Rovira, the Galaxy’s youth-team coaches have been extremely supportive of their midfielder’s unique opportunity.
“They’ve told me just to soak in the experience and make sure that I can grow from this opportunity,” said Rovira. “They want me to maximize my time with the national team because it can only help my play develop, and if that happens, then who knows what can come after that.”
Rovira and La Selecta will now travel to Washington, where they will take on Central American rivals Guatemala at RFK on Tuesday. The match will offer yet another chance for Rovira to get on the pitch for La Selecta, but the young midfielder cannot begin to fathom what it would mean to hear his name called for El Salvador.
“It would be amazing for me to get on the pitch,” said Rovira. “It would really be a dream come true.”