BY KYLE FRANKO email@example.com @ByKyleFranko
AMERICAN FALLS — Maria Sanchez grew up in a single-story house in American Falls. Right across the street is a park, large enough for two soccer goals. Sanchez learned to play on this patch of green grass. It’s the field that sparked the journey from an unheralded American Falls prep star, to an Idaho State freshman and to a member of Mexico’s Women’s National Team that will play in the World Cup in June.
“It seems like a dream because the more I try to think about it, I can’t get the idea of what’s actually happening now,” Sanchez said. “It’s what I’ve always worked for but I didn’t know it would come this quick.”
Sanchez received an email Wednesday that she was one of 23 players selected to play for Mexico. She flies out Friday from Salt Lake City to train with her teammates in Mexico City. They pack up again and head to Canada on May 31.
Mexico and Sanchez make their world debut June 9 against Colombia in a game that will be on Fox.
Sanchez can’t believe she’s reached this juncture of her career, but she’s eager to see what’s next. “I know I’ll have to work harder than I ever have,” Sanchez said, “because I want to be one of the best players.”
Sanchez introduced herself to the Mexican national team at a tryout in February in Los Angeles. Before going, Sanchez wasn’t sure she was ready to pursue a spot playing for Mexico, because it’s something she always saw herself doing after finishing her career at Idaho State.
As a freshman in 2014, Sanchez was second on ISU in goals with seven (fourth in the Big Sky Conference) and led the league in assists with eight. Idaho State lost to Northern Arizona 2-1 in the conference championship in November.
All Sanchez wanted to do was improve her game for her sophomore campaign. Idaho State coach Allison Gibson, however, encouraged Sanchez to not wait. Gibson thought Sanchez was ready for the national stage. Be brave, Gibson told her. Do what you do best.
“I called her and had a long pep talk with her and reminded her what she’s good at and what they’ll see and what everyone sees that watches her play,” Gibson said. “Just remember those strengths and just to be herself.”
It worked. Sanchez ignored the pressure and played aggressively. The coaches loved her speed and ability to control the ball with her feet, Sanchez said.
“She just has this X-factor that you can’t coach,” Gibson said. “Literally, I’m lost for words. Because I don’t even know how to describe the type of player she is. You don’t ever see it. It’s a once in a lifetime.”
And now Sanchez has an opportunity few in the world ever have. The World Cup is held every four years. Mexico is guaranteed three matches. After finding out she made Mexico’s final roster, Sanchez jumped on the phone with Gibson to share the news.
Gibson told her that she couldn’t think of anyone who deserves the experience more. Sanchez’s response was to thank her coach and Bengal teammates for helping to push her. She wants to make everybody in American Falls and ISU proud.
“Now she’s going to work that much harder to make all of us proud of her. It’s always about that, and it’s so authentic when it comes from her,” Gibson said. “That’s who she is.”