From November to the spring of every year, Mario Alvarez polices the field as a defender for the Milwaukee Wave.
Which is quite apropos because the 31-year-old Alvarez might enter the law enforcement community someday.
After majoring in criminal justice and the law, Alvarez was ready to make it a career almost a decade ago, until the Chicago Mustangs of the Major Arena Soccer League came calling and offered him a contract to play professionally in 2015.
Let's face it, it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
"They called and I was like, 'Oh, a contract in soccer to play for money?' It was a dream. You can't turn that down. That's what I did. I felt like it was a good decision. It's been a good experience."
Alvarez played two seasons with the Mustangs, one with the Cedar Rapids Rampage, two with the Orlando SeaWolves before the Wave acquired him during the 2019-20 campaign.
While his number one priority as a defender is to stop and limit the opposition in goals and scoring opportunities, the 5-11, 168-lb. defender is enjoying a breakout season as an attacking defender.
As the Wave enters the second half of its season, Alvarez has nine goals and 12 assists in 13 appearances. He is on the verge of surpassing his best season offensively, when he connected for 10 goals and 13 assists during the 2022-23 campaign. To further appreciate those numbers, Alvarez has collected 45 goals and 51 assists during his eight-year MASL career.
"I didn't look at those numbers," Alvarez said by phone from an airport during a three-hour delay from Monterrey to Dallas earlier this week. "I usually never look at numbers. I just go on the field and just do my job and do exactly what I'm told to do, but I also give a little bit of my own creativity whenever needed. I'm always trying to do what's best for the team. I try to eat well, sleep well, give 110 percent at practice every single time because like they said, you know, practice makes perfect. I try my best. I'm a quiet player, but I feel like on the field that's where I'm a little louder than in person."
He certainly has demonstrated that.
When the Wave acquired Alvarez, he was a midfielder. But head coach Giuliano Oliviero saw something in his game that would translate to the backline.
"I'm not sure if he liked it the first time we did it, but he's embraced it," Oliviero said. "Every year he gets better and better. Indoor soccer, everyone's got to attack. Everyone’s got to defend. I feel like he's really found his niche."
Alvarez's niche has been as an attack-minded defender.
Oliviero has appreciated Alvarez’s growth, calling him “a quarterback.”
“He is a really high soccer IQ player," he added. "He is a very technical player. Great teammate. His game has really moved this year. It's just confidence. Once he got a little bit of a taste of putting points on the board, he really got after it. Confidence is a big thing. He's stayed healthy. He's always had the ability to do what he's doing now and. Hopefully it continues for himself and the team.
"Playing alongside a guy like Marcio Leite, you pick up certain things as well. Just doing things over and over builds confidence. His defensive duties haven't changed. He's still a stellar defender. But he's taking chances, and he's picking using his moments at the right time."
Regardless of where he has played, Alvarez has taken his role seriously.
"Personally, I feel like everything's going well," he said. "Obviously, my family has a lot to do with it. They've always supported me with everything. The closer I get with these guys [teammates], the better it goes. Just the chemistry overall is great, and I love it."
The Aurora, Ill. native's love for the sport began when he started kicking the ball around when he was four years old.
It didn't hurt that his parents played soccer when they were younger. It certainly helped to have some mentors at home.
"They've been playing their whole lives," Alvarez said. "They've seen the game and watched the game and always have an input in everything. I'm so thankful for them.”
In fact, Alvarez has played soccer with his mother, Sonia, and father, Mario, on a co-ed team in a Chicago area league.
"It's always fun to play with them," he said.
Sonia competes as a forward and both Marios patrol the backline.
"My mom's out there scoring goals," Alvarez said. "I'm her biggest fan. I'm going crazy and my dad's on defense as well. He's just moving the ball easy. It's so much fun. Luckily, we got a championship, too. It's not one of those things where your whole family is on the team. It's wild, fun, a great time."
Now, how many pro players can say that they play on the same soccer team as their parents as adults?
Not many, if any.
Alvarez's most memorable goal this season came in a 9-7 home victory over Utica City FC on Jan. 4. Milwaukee got off to a sluggish start and was trailing, 2-1, in the first quarter. Stuart Grable passed him the ball before Alvarez ran from yellow line to yellow line to finish off a spectacular goal to knot up the game at 8:01.
We'll let Alvarez describe what transpired.
"They tried to beat me down the line," he said. "We broke down the play gave it to Willie B. [Banahene, the goalkeeper]. Willie B gave it to Stu. Stu gave it to me from our defensive yellow line. When I see a bunch of space, I'm going to attack it every single time. I ran down the field. I had Ian Bennett to my left and Derek Huffman to my right. Both of those guys are goal-scoring machines. I just felt like they [Utica] underestimated me for a little bit. They were blocking them, giving me the whole lane to go shoot. I gave it a try from the yellow line."
For one memorable goal.
"That's where I feel like the game turned around," Alvarez added. "Everybody was hyped and excited. It got me going. Especially my family was there. It's a proud moment for myself. I'm just glad to be a part of that."
Sonia Alvarez cheered her son on at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.
"My mom goes to every single game at home," Alvarez said. "She always tells everybody when I'm signing autographs, 'I'm his number one fan.' Everybody knows my mom by name by now."
Alvarez, who missed two matches after tweaking his groin, said that he liked what the team has accomplished, though there is always room for improvement.
"I’ve still got to work on a couple of things, but I like our chemistry. When everyone is at their best, it gets better and better every single day," he said. "We have to work on little things defensively, but I feel like we have the right pieces to make it really far this year and win a championship."
The Wave last won an MASL championship in 2018-19.
Alvarez just missed out, joining the club the next season.
So how much would winning a championship mean to the veteran defender?
"I'd say probably life complete," he replied with a chuckle. "I came into this league not knowing what to expect. We would have a championship for the team and our city. My family is my number one supporter. Making them happy, I'd be the happiest guy alive."
No one has to remind Alvarez how fortunate he is, getting to play the sport he loves.
"You're young only once and you've got to go with what you're passionate about," he said. "I have no regrets whatsoever. I love the game. It's not like it's one of those things where I wake up, I'm like, 'Man, I’ve got to wake up and go to practice.' I'm like, 'Let's go. Let's do this. Get better every day.' It's a blast. I just have a great time.
"Every time the season's coming around the corner, I'm excited. I start training even harder and it's just something that I love to do. It's going to be tough to hang up the boots one of these days. But hopefully I could be like Ian Bennett. This guy's still a machine. I'm trying to try to be like that guy and just play as long as I can."
Bennett, one of the legends of the game, has recorded 12 goals and four assists in 12 matches at the age of 40.
When it comes time to hang up his soccer boots for good, Alvarez realized that he could jump into another career, if he so desires - law enforcement.
After completing his internship for the Kane County Sheriff's Department in Illinois right after college, the department wanted him to apply for a full-time job.
"That was my goal," he said.
Then came that opportunity with the Mustangs.
"I'm a soccer player," Alvarez added. "I like to be a part of a group, help in every way possible. I like to do it as well on the outside. That's what I want to pursue my career eventually, whenever I want to hang up my boots. Hopefully, I'll talk to the Milwaukee Wave owners and see if they could point me in the right direction to see if anybody they know so I could possibly keep playing. I don't necessarily have to be a police officer, but that's the goal. Anywhere in the system, just as long as I keep playing because it's really tough to say goodbye to this sport that you've been playing your whole life."
Especially since Mario Alvarez finds himself at the top of his game these days.
Michael Lewis, the editor of FrontRowSoccer.com, can be followed on Twitter at @SoccerWriter. Lewis can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He has written two books" Alive and Kicking: The incredible, but true story of the Rochester Lancers and a sequel, STILL AND ALIVE AND KICKING: The story of the 21st century Rochester Lancers. It has many features about indoor soccer and MASL players. Both books can be purchased at www.RochesterLancersBook.com.