“I had no idea where I was going to go.”
With all the uncertainty in the world, Ashley Sanchez could be talking about any number of things that have transpired over the past few months. Instead, the attacking midfielder is referring to an event just as unpredictable but more positive: being drafted to the Washington Spirit in January.
Though unexpected, Sanchez’s enthusiasm for the game brought out a hopeful excitement about joining the Spirit.
“I knew it was a really young team, which excited me,” she recalls. “I knew the coach’s style of play was similar to mine, more possession-oriented. I actually knew a lot of the girls on the team already coming in. Knowing the majority of them [already] was really calming for me.”
It seems Sanchez’s year has been marked by the unknown. She notes that in addition to not knowing which team she’d be drafted to, before that she was unsure if she would even come out of college to join a National Women’s Soccer League team. During her collegiate career at UCLA, she scored 23 goals and created 42 assists. And during her senior campaign, she scored seven times and had 15 assists, among other accomplishments.
“At first, I didn’t know if I was going to come out of college early or not, and then I thought it’d be a good opportunity for me. But obviously, going into the draft, I had no idea where I was going to go and had all these eyes [on me].”
Since then, she’s moved in with two of her teammates, adding another layer of stability to Sanchez’s new life. This element proved especially important as she, her team and the whole world grapples with shutdowns and sports delays brought on by Covid-19.
“Everyone’s pretty much in the same boat. I’m glad the people who I live with are able to come out with me and train, and we can make stuff fun sometimes. It’s been getting a little repetitive, which is what I struggle with most. But you’ve just got to roll with it.”
Much like the rest of the world, Sanchez and her teammates rely on Zoom to stay connected to each other and their coaches. Weekly virtual meetings allow them to catch up on the personal and professional. With most of the team residing within a 2-mile radius of each other, lifting equipment at home and a solid training schedule, they’ve created some semblance of normalcy for one another.
Despite challenges, Sanchez remains upbeat about her future and the future of soccer. With many Americans displaying a vested interest in women’s soccer after two back-to-back World Cup championships and a number of thrilling players fighting for equality on and off the field, she says her timing with going pro couldn’t be better.
“I’m entering at the perfect time. I’m really excited that everything for women’s sports in general is evolving and getting the recognition that [we] deserve.”
The future of this season is unknown as of now, and a moratorium on training – outside of outdoor or home activities – remains in effect as the team follows federal, state and local regulations. Sanchez’s message to fans is to hold tight and be ready to cheer them on when they finally return to the pitch and fans return to the stands.
“When we’re all allowed to come in and play, and [fans] are allowed to watch [live], I feel like it will all be worth it. And we’re going to try to win for them and just play the best we can for our fans, because they stuck with us through all of this.”
As the Spirit and fans take things day by day, one thing’s for sure: Sanchez looks forward to seeing you from the field and showcasing her talents as one of the pros, hopefully sooner rather than later.
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