PUEBLA, Mexico – He may be just 18 years old, but FC Dallas goalkeeper Richard Sánchez is already quite the popular figure in Mexico. El Tri’s Under-20 national team goalkeeper has the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand and spent approximately 20 minutes attending to journalists after Mexico defeated Jamaica 4-0 on Wednesday.
It all started when he backstopped Mexico's U-17 World Cup win on home soil in 2011, sending his stock soaring down south, and a trial with Chelsea last year indicates that his projected career path could be to the very top of the game.
The Los Angeles native maintains that his heart is in Mexico and has been since he was a small child but if, and it is still a big if with the semifinals still to play, the US and Mexico do meet in Sunday's final of the CONCACAF U-20 Championship, there is no doubt in his head that it would be more than a little bit special for the FC Dallas youngster.
“Yes, it would [be the perfect final],” Sánchez said after Wednesday’s game. “There’s always been a rivalry between the two countries; it’s always a pleasure to play against them and I’d look forward to a game against them.”
Sánchez, who signed his first professional contract with Dallas in 2011 after coming up through their academy system, is no stranger to members of the US squad, and knows some of them extremely well, especially Kaiserslautern forward Mario Rodríguez, with whom his friendship goes way back.
“I have friends on that team,” he said with a smile. “Mario Rodríguez is actually a really close friend of mine that I played with all the way through high school. It’d be fun to play against him in the final.”
Alongside Sánchez in the Mexico squad is winger Uvaldo Luna, who was born and raised in Texas, but moved south to join Tigres UANL’s youth system and eventually elected to play for Mexico.
A US-Mexico clash would be an extra special game for Luna as well, and one that may not be the easiest to deal with, considering he suited up for the US at U-18 level and was called into Tab Ramos’ US U-20 squad in early 2012.
“It’s going to be kind of difficult but Mexico gave me that one opportunity,” said the right winger, who has featured in all of Mexico’s three games so far this tournament.
Luna would potentially be up against US left back Juan Pablo Ocegueda if the two countries met next Sunday, his former teammate at Tigres and good friend.
“He’s a good teammate, he’s a good player,” said Luna. “It’d be crazy. I’ve played against him against and he beat us and we’ll see how it goes.”
Ocegueda also told MLSsoccer.com earlier in the tournament that he would relish the chance to go up against his friend and was equally complimentary about his ability, adding that Luna is "a very good player."
Finally, if the issue of dual nationals, friendships and rivalries between the two countries wasn't enough to handle while sitting in the spotlight, Sánchez still has time for some words for his FC Dallas teammates up north as the countdown to the MLS season draws ever nearer.
“I want to wish my teammates a lot of luck for the first game against Colorado and just thanks for the support from Dallas,” he stated. “They are supportive in the work that I do and I really appreciate it.”