Chicago Fire's Richard Sanchez states his case for long-term starting job

HARRISON, N.J. -- Richard Sanchez may be a young goalkeeper with just eight matches in MLS under his belt.

But the 24-year-old Chicago Fire netminder has a chance to not only be the goalkeeper of the present for the Fire, but also the future.

That possibility was on full display in his last performance on Saturday, when he stood on his head several times in helping to spearhead a 2-1 road win over the New York Red Bulls, showing off both his present ability and his future potential.

The Fire have been very strongly linked with longtime Spanish national team goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who the past two summers has been mentioned in reports as a potential MLS signing. And yet in Sanchez, a former Mexican U-20 international, the Fire may have found the goalkeeper who can lock down the starting spot in-between the pipes.

“It’s been a long process for sure and there are some things to work on," Sanchez told MLSsoccer.com. "My motto is ‘Never get comfortable.’ Right now I feel good, I feel like I’m in a good place.”

Aside from his saves, Sanchez's ability to snare crosses also stood out against the Red Bulls.

“Honestly, it’s something that I’ve always had in my game," he said. "The confidence I have, coming back into the MLS last year. It’s something I’ve always had. There’s still more to do, areas I want to improve.”

Returning back to MLS after stints in Mexico and the NASL, Sanchez made just two appearances with the Fire last year. He has started all six matches in 2018 for Chicago, who have earned seven points from their last four matches.

In Saturday’s win at Red Bull Arena, Sanchez controlled the area well, claiming crosses and frequently playing off his line as the Fire bottled New York centrally, forcing play to the wings. He made a total of nine saves, several of the spectacular variety.

Sanchez was also solid in his distribution, crucial in a game where the Fire struggled to hold onto the ball. Sanchez’s ability to play out of the back helped stem the Red Bulls' counter-pressing.

In one rapid first-half sequence, Sanchez came up big twice with the kind of goalkeeping synonymous with active MLS greats Tim Howard and Nick Rimando.

In the 35th minute, Daniel Royer was in alone on the Fire goal after reaching Bradley Wright-Phillips' pass. Sanchez came out and made himself big, denying the Austrian international at point-blank. Then on the follow-up, he sprung to his right and denied Alejandro Romero Gamarra's rebound attempt, one that appeared destined for the net.

He gave up no rebound this time, plucking the ball out of mid-air.

It was a huge to help the Fire secure three points and also send a message to his locker room and the league that Chicago have an answer in goal.

"I was very focused, very motivated to play against the Red Bulls in a stadium like this, away," Sanchez explained. "I was very motivated to play against these guys and get the three points.

“This match was very important for us. In terms of confidence, it’s what we needed."