The US Women’s National Team is often a rigid system of play. While we have creative players in our talent pool, the obsession with winning and how we win often leaves little room for players to work individually and creatively. Instead we ask them to find the most efficient and effective way to get the ball from one point to the next, where we use the advantages of our attackers to dribble masterfully on the ball and hit precise passes and shots on the counter. The best teams in the game have cultures that run almost mechanically, with players training years in one system before truly being allowed to express themselves on the ball.
Ashley Sanchez, the 24 year-old midfielder for the Washington Spirit, who rose up the professional ranks by helping her club win a championship, lives for audacity and the ability to try something different on the ball.
Ashley Sanchez may play with a bit of a chip on her shoulder. She, along with Sofia Huerta, is one of two Mexican-American players on the USWNT, and she has spoken about how she often feels like she’s not “Mexican enough” while holding a Mexican-American identity. Though this feeling improved once she began her collegiate career at UCLA, Sanchez has played in a way that often drew admirers, but left some confused about what to do with her unique talents.
Drafted at #4 in the 2020 Draft, a year that only saw new players get to play in the first ever Challenge Cup, Sanchez struggled to find her footing. It was next year’s draft that would bring Trinity Rodman to the Washington Spirit, and with it a partner in crime for Sanchez. It wouldn’t take long for the two young players to form a bond on and off the pitch, as each player’s talent unlocked something within the other, and that translated into many creative exchanges up and down the pitch.
It is the unpredictability of Ashley Sanchez that makes her one of the most versatile pieces on the national team. A player that is equally adept at getting out of a jam with passes and shooting, Sanchez has what the people call “sauce” the ability to make sound football decisions while displaying a skill set that teeters into the artistic. One such moment for her is the game winning goal she scored against OL Reign in the 2021 NWSL semi-final, a shot that came from a nearly impossible angle and found purchase at the back of the net.
Sanchez, a child of two worlds and also a child of America, may be at her most Mexican with her desire to shoot from deeper on the pitch, or to make runs and passes that start from further out, as her pace and vision allow her to link up with her fellow attackers from the 10 spot, or make secondary runs into the box on her own, with her ability to bend her shot around defenders or take the ball out of the air.
“I think I describe her is really crafty, super technical, fun player to watch.” These are the words of veteran defender Kelley O’Hara, words that seem to be echoed by much of the USWNT staff and players. When watching Sanchez and seeing her play this way, I cannot help but think that her style often mimics the Mexican players I watch so often in Liga MX Feminil. Her desire to take a shot if it is open, no matter the distance, and her desire to run into the space and create shots with an artistic like vision, may be a nod to the Mexican heritage she has grappled with for so long.
These days, Sanchez seems to embrace both parts of who she is. The audacity that seems natural for her, lends itself to the moments of the spectacular. The United States will need those moments if they wish to lift their first World Cup overall and third in a row. As Ashley Sanchez knows so well, without audacity, without “sauce” there is no art. She is ready to become an artist on the biggest stage.
Theme Song for Ashley Sanchez: Sauce - Naïka