After celebrating on draft day, Maria Sánchez is ready to get to work in Chicago
Sánchez was drafted by the Red Stars in the second round of the 2019 NWSL College Draft
Maria Sánchez recorded 16 assists for Santa Clara in 2018. (Photo courtesy: Santa Clara Athletics/Don Jedlovec)
Maria Sánchez recorded 16 assists for Santa Clara in 2018. (Photo courtesy: Santa Clara Athletics/Don Jedlovec)

Idaho native and Santa Clara forward Maria Sánchez didn’t attend the 2019 NWSL College Draft in Chicago, but the moment she was selected caught the attention of many. In a widely-shared video, Sánchez learned she would be drafted by the Chicago Red Stars while surrounded by her Santa Clara teammates as they watched the draft broadcast on a large television in the team lounge.

“They were heading out to practice and I was watching the draft in the team lounge. Right before practice started, we were all just there watching the draft and stuff. That’s when I got the call saying that I was going to be picked. [Santa Clara athletic trainer Sean Shahmirzadi] started recording and it was just perfect timing.”

When Red Stars head coach Rory Dames called to let Sánchez know she’d be getting selected, she admits it was a whirlwind of emotions.

“He was talking to me and he said, ‘Your name’s about to be announced.’ I was just in disbelief and then my teammates were all looking at me. It was just crazy,” she said.

In December, Sánchez announced on social media that she had graduated from Santa Clara, and would continue to pursue her dream of playing professional soccer. Shortly after, she declared for the NWSL College Draft, where she was selected in the second round, 15th overall, by the Chicago Red Stars.

“It’s exciting to see how many talented players they have and how they’ve done the last few seasons. They’re always one of the top teams,” she said of the Red Stars. “So, the fact that they believe in me and to have an opportunity to play with them — it’s just one in a million for me.”

Sánchez already feels a connection with her new team, as some Mexican internationals are part of the current squad (Katie Johnson and Christina Murillo) and Santa Clara alums have played or currently play in Chicago (Leslie Osborne, Sofia Huerta, Julie Ertz).

“Just seeing the team history and the current roster. It’s crazy to think that I have the chance to play there,” she said.

Her particular skill set of whipping in crosses with a strong left foot — coupled with experience at the international level — had Sánchez on several mock boards when draft day arrived.

“I practice a lot on that. Perfecting my crosses and making sure that I can give good [service] to my teammates,” Sánchez said. “So, I think that’s one of my stronger [attributes]. Obviously, it’s hard to find a left-footer. It’s rarer to find a left-footer. So, I think that’s helped me a lot.”

The 22-year-old winger led all NCAA Division I colleges and universities in assists with 16 during the 2018 season, and believes she can make an impact at the professional level.

“Some of my coaches that I’ve had, they’ve really complimented my left foot, and being able to cross the ball and assist my teammates,” she said.  “I think everybody loves scoring goals, but for me, one of my [skills] that makes me really happy is assisting.”

The Mexican international has represented El Tri since she was a teenager. She participated in her first senior level Women’s World Cup back in 2015 when she was only 19 years old, and she wowed the soccer community when she participated in the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.

Back in October, Mexico had a disappointing and shocking elimination during the 2018 Concacaf Women’s World Cup qualifiers, and will miss next summer’s tournament in France. Now, Sánchez is kicking off the new year by being drafted into the NWSL and named to Mexico’s Cyprus Cup roster. She’s looking forward to continuing her professional soccer career, and believes an opportunity in the NWSL can have an impact on her game both professionally and at the international level.

“Honestly, I think that sometimes you kind of need that to make you realize anything can happen. And I want to work hard so that hopefully an upset like that doesn’t happen again in my career anymore. … That just gives me motivation to work hard. To be aware of how real it is in soccer to be upset like that,” she said.

“But definitely excited to work hard and hopefully make a change in Mexico’s program. I think being on a team like Chicago will really help me, not just in my professional career, but in my playing with Mexico, and to hopefully improve our outcomes there.”

Sánchez is eager to make the most of her opportunity with the Red Stars, and looking forward to not only competing, but learning through her teammates and their examples.

“I’m really excited about [working with] Julie Ertz, Sam Kerr, Katie Johnson, and everybody. I think being able to learn from them and see their work — the work that they put into the sport, the discipline they have, and just seeing what the life of a professional soccer player is,” she said.

“College is different, you have to attend school and other things to do. I’m excited to see how they manage their day, how they work at practice, and kind of see them as my role models. Hopefully, one day I can be like them.”

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