FC Dallas goalkeeper Richard Sanchez went to Mexico this summer a virtual unknown. But after a month, the 17-year-old has become a national hero on both sides of the border.
Sanchez backstopped Mexico through seven games — including a dramatic win over Germany in the semifinals — to clinch the U-17 World Cup in a 2-0 win against Uruguay last weekend in front of nearly 100,000 fans packed into famed Estadio Azteca. In the process, he became the first American-born player ever to win a FIFA men’s title.
“It was an experience that I am never going to forget and it was something that I will save in my heart forever,” the teenager told reporters during a conference call on Thursday. “This experience was something marvelous.”
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Sanchez started and played every minute of every game for the host country en route to Mexico’s second Under-17 World Cup title in six years, registering two shutouts in the process.
Although Sanchez made several noteworthy saves during the tournament, perhaps none was more important than his penalty-kick stop against the Netherlands in the final game of group play. While the Dutch side eventually equalized, Sanchez saved 11 total shots in the match as Mexico went on to score a late winner.
“Los Niños Héroes” (The Child Heroes), as they came to be called, won every game in the group stage and went on to beat Panama, France, Germany and Uruguay in the elimination phase for the world title.
That feeling of beating Uruguay for the crown, Sanchez said, is unrivaled.
“I felt a lot of happiness and euphoria,” he said. “To be named world champions was a huge satisfaction for something that for four years we worked so hard for.”
Since then, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind for the Mission Hills, Calif., native, as he and his teammates, who have kept busy sharing the experience with the entire country, including a traditional visit to Los Pinos to meet with Mexican president Felipe Calderón.
“It was a bunch of meeting and greeting, politics and then a little bit of being with the family as well,” said Sanchez of his and his team’s busy schedule since winning the title.
The young netminder will rejoin FC Dallas on July 25, before the team leaves for El Salvador to play Alianza on July 28 in CONCACAF Champions League qualifying.
When he does, there’s no question he’ll have a little more swagger and some extra motivation.
"I feel a little bit more confident after playing in the World Cup,” Sanchez said. “Being that I’m only 17 years old and having to live this experience did boost my confidence. I feel good and I’m going to keep working hard to accomplish my dreams.”
Robert Casner covers FC Dallas for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @FCDallasBeatGuy