When Richard Sanchez first learned that he and his family would be moving from the Los Angeles neighborhood of Mission Hills to the quiet Texas town of Frisco, he was excited for the change.
That excitement quickly turned to regret once he started thinking about the things he would be leaving behind: family, friends and the life he knew for the first 12 years of his life.
Seven years later, Sanchez realizes just what that move meant for him. Why his father's decision to move the family was made. Why leaving the LA suburbs for a simpler life in Texas was the best thing that could have happened to him. Why now, as a 19-year-old professional goalkeeper with a promising playing career, he is thankful for his father's tough decision and the life it has led to.
"My father's always told me that everything happens for a reason and I live by that," Sanchez said. "A lot of things the way my life has worked out has worked out for the better. Who knows if we had stayed in California whether the things would have gone the same way. I feel like everything has happened the way it was meant to happen."
Sanchez is still in the early stages of his pro playing career, but he has already experienced plenty. A homegrown player for FC Dallas, Sanchez started in goal for the Mexican team that won the 2011 U-17 World Cup. Most recently, he started for Mexico in the U-20 World Cup.
One thing that had been lacking on the 19-year-old's resume is pro game experience, but he has had the chance to address that with a loan move to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. He has made the most of the opportunity, establishing himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the NASL.
"It's been really good coming here. I've benefited from this experience a lot," Sanchez said. "Coming into this league, I knew it wasn't going to be easy to participate here. I knew it was going to be a challenge and a lot of competition.
"You obviously gain confidence through gaining minutes," Sanchez said. "That's what I kind of needed, and I wanted. Coming here benefited me because getting playing time I've worked myself to get that starting position and now that I was able to get the confidence of the coach, it's been great to get these games under my belt."
Sanchez has been a force for the Strikers, earning NASL Player of the Week honors once, and NASL Team of the Week honors twice. He also came within five minutes of breaking the NASL record for consecutive shutout minutes, putting together a 353-minute shutout streak.
Sanchez has also had to adjust to life away from his Texas home, which has included living out of a hotel for the duration of his loan. He has adapted, and made the most of his time in Florida.
Adapting is something that has come natural to Sanchez from the days he was a 4-year old first being put in goal by his father. He has spent the better part of 16 years trying to learn a craft that takes decades to master, but Sanchez finds himself improving more and more. This year -- which saw him compete in a U-20 World Cup as well as earn his first pro starts -- has helped him find a stronger passion for the goalkeeper position.
"Not until recently did I really realize what it means to be a goalkeeper. It's something that I like because just having that feeling of denying a shot and denying forwards when they try to score, it's an incredible feeling," Sanchez said. "it's a wonderful position and it takes a lot of patience to master."
The 6-foot-3 goalkeeper has attracted the attention of plenty of scouts, particularly from Mexico, but for now Sanchez is focused on closing out the NASL season and returning to Texas. He has his sights set on challenging for playing time with FC Dallas, and potentially making his first senior team appearance with the club.
"As far as I'm concerned, I'd like to go back to Dallas and compete for the starting position and help FC Dallas in that aspect," Sanchez said. "Getting minutes with them is the goal, but if that's not an option I could come back to the Strikers."
Another interesting aspect of Sanchez's professional situation is his player rights. Though he is currently under contract to MLS and FC Dallas, sources tell Goal that Mexican club Tigres purchased a percentage of his player rights over the summer, in the 80-85 percent range, in exchange for a $1 million fee.
FC Dallas technical director Fernando Clavijo confirmed to Goal the existence of an agreement with Tigres, but was clear to spell out that Dallas still owns his rights, calling the Tigres deal an investment by the Mexican club.
"Tigres owns a percentage of his economic rights and it is a win-win for everybody," Clavijo said. "We still own his rights, still own his contract, and still make the decisions about his career."
When asked about the possibility of having Sanchez return to the Strikers in 2014, Clavijo wouldn't rule it out, but he also made it clear Sanchez could be competing for the starting job with FC Dallas.
"I wouldn't rule out that he could challenge Raul (Fernandez) for the position," Clavijo said. "The only way he's going to mature is by playing him, whether that is with FC Dallas or with another team."
Sanchez wouldn't completely rule out the possibility of a move to a Mexican club like Tigres, but he made it clear he was focused on finishing out his season with the Strikers, and considering his options this winter.
Speaking of options, Sanchez continues to be one of the top goalkeeping prospects in the Mexican national team pipeline, but he also has not been cap-tied and playing for the United States remains an option. The California-born goalkeeper is clear in stating that his heart is with Mexico, and he loves representing El Tri, but he would not completely close the door on playing for the USA if circumstances were to change with Mexico.
"I'm privileged to have both citizenships and you want to keep those doors open and take advantage of them," Sanchez said. "In terms of who it is that you want to represent, my heart is for Mexico and as long as they keep calling me, and giving me that chance to play with them, I'll be more than happy to play with Mexico."
Sanchez revealed that he was contacted by USA officials prior to playing in the U-17 World Cup, and attempts have been made to speak to his father about representing the United States. He won't completely close the door on that option, and unless he is actually cap-tied by Mexico (something unlikely to happen before 2015), he will continue to have the option of potentially representing the USA one day.
Like most fans of El Tri, Sanchez is focused more on the struggles of the Mexican national team, and hoping Mexico can overcome its woes to secure a place in the 2014 World Cup.
"It's a bit heartbreaking, but I have a lot of confidence in the national team, and I've always had that confidence in the national team before," Sanchez said. "With the new coach that they have now, he can bring something to the national team and help us qualify."
Sanchez has about a month to go in his loan with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, and he is looking forward to returning home to Texas, where he has grown to appreciate the slower pace of life and peaceful community he lives in.
Sanchez acknowledges still missing California, but he has grown to appreciate Texas. Not only for the laid-back environment, but for the career it has helped him enjoy, and the opportunities it has helped him experience after that fateful move seven years ago.
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