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Mexico U20 Maria Sanchez pulled off some World Cup joga bonito

Written by Will Parchman


The U20 Women’s World Cup is up and running as of last weekend, and the U.S. creaked off the starting blocks slowly. A scoreless draw in which the U.S. was out-shot by a 4-to-1 margin at least gave them a point and a prime shot at advancing with wins over New Zealand and Ghana.

Other things are happening. Host Papua New Guinea, playing in its first ever FIFA World Cup at any level, men’s or women’s, dropped its debut match 9-0 to Brazil. The shrouded North Koreans shocked UEFA champion Sweden 2-0. Spain steamrolled Canada 5-0, while tourney favorite Japan buried 2014 finalist Nigeria an immense 6-0.

While all that was happening, an unassuming 20-year-old named Maria Sanchez was busy making herself a household name.

In its World Cup opener, Mexico (which finished third in CONCACAF and needed a last-chance knockout win to get here) shocked South Korea with a 2-0 win to get off to a rollicking start in Group D. Baylor’s Jackie Crowther and UC Irvine’s Kiana Palacios got the goals, but Sanchez got most of the spotlight. For starters, she set up Crowther’s game-opening goal (and ultimate match-winner) with this lovely do-si-do in the box.

That was nice (maybe the assist of the first round of games), but it wasn’t her most impressive moment of the match. That came here, as Sanchez posterized three different players (including poor Yoon Sunyoung three different times) to break into the box and create a scoring opportunity.

Sanchez started her college career at Idaho State, which went an anemic 1-17-1 in 2015, and when she told the team she wanted to transfer to a bigger program she was met with significant headwinds. According to the Idaho State Journal, she was denied permission to speak with a collection of programs including Florida State and Notre Dame after declaring her intentions to transfer on April 27.

In the aforementioned article, Sanchez offered a stinging rebuke on her time at ISU.

“I think that once I started knowing more about soccer than my coaches did, I figured I can’t really learn,” Sanchez says about her two seasons at ISU. “And as a player I want to learn every day.”

In June, Sanchez finally cleared of the turbulence and verbally committed to Santa Clara, mostly recently the home of current USWNT starting center back Julie Johnston. Sanchez said she plans to enroll in January and won’t have to sit out a year thanks to the one-time switch rule.

In the meantime, Sanchez has at least two more games in Papua New Guinea to showcase why it is she’s considered one of the top up-and-coming pro prospects at this year’s World Cup.

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