Soccer

Another record-setting Idaho native is about to take pro soccer by storm

The United States’ top women’s soccer league kicks off its seventh season Saturday with two Idaho natives holding key roles.

Centennial High grad Sofia Huerta (2011), a three-time all-league selection, returns to the Houston Dash. And an Idaho-born rookie is set to make waves in the National Women’s Soccer League, according to one of the country’s leading soccer websites.

TopDrawerSoccer.com named the Chicago Red Stars’ Maria Sanchez, an American Falls High grad (2014), its top rookie to watch in 2019.

“Sanchez is an exciting attacking player that can score or create from wide spaces. A member of Mexico’s national team, she certainly has the ability to play her way into the Rookie of the Year conversation,” the website wrote.

The Chicago Red Stars drafted the 23-year-old Sanchez with the 15th overall pick in January after she led NCAA Division I with 16 assists last fall. Since then, she’s shined in the preseason, tallying two assists in three games, including one against the U.S. women’s U-23 national team.

A speedy, left-footed winger known for her deadly crosses, Sanchez gives the Red Stars a weapon on the edges.

“I think everybody loves scoring goals, but for me, one of my (skills) that makes me really happy is assisting,” Sanchez told the NWSL website after getting drafted.

Sanchez set an American Falls High record with 178 career goals, including 68 in 17 games as a senior, earning her a mention in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd. The daughter of Mexican immigrants, Sanchez told the Idaho Statesman in 2015 she could never afford to play club soccer and instead honed her skills by playing pick-up games with her older brother, Samual, and his friends at the middle school across the street from her home.

Nearby Idaho State was the only college program to offer a scholarship. But after starring for the Bengals for two years, she transferred to look for a tougher challenge.

Sanchez followed in Huerta’s footsteps at Santa Clara and by getting drafted by the Red Stars. Now she has the opportunity to take advantage of the same opening Huerta did in 2015 as the Women’s World Cup kicks off in June and draws the league’s top talent away from their clubs.

Sanchez has made 13 appearances for the Mexican senior national team, including one in the 2015 World Cup as a 19-year-old. But Mexico did not qualify for the 2019 World Cup.

“She has some qualities that we lack on our team, so it was a good fit,” Red Stars coach Rory Dames told the Idaho State Journal in January. “(Sanchez is) naturally left-footed, and we were lacking in a natural left-footed player. And she loves to go one-v-one at players and engage them and take them on.”

Sofia Huerta, Houston.JPG
Centennial High grad Sofia Huerta will start her second season with the Houston Dash of the NWSL on Sunday. Courtesy of ISI Photos

HUERTA BACK IN HOUSTON

Huerta, 26, became the first Idaho-born man or woman to play for the U.S. national team in 2017. But she enters her fifth professional season with an unsettled role.

U.S. national team coach Jill Ellis wanted her to play out of position at right back for the defending World Cup champ, so she asked Chicago for a trade. The Red Stars obliged in June, sending her to Houston alongside another defender and blocking her playing time on the back line.

She subsequently fell out of favor with the national team and didn’t earn a call-up to camp during World Cup qualifying.

Huerta spent the winter in Australia to gain more experience as a defender, leading Sydney FC to the W-League title by scoring the game-winning goal in the semifinals and then the opening goal in the championship match.

She returns to Houston listed as a midfielder, where she scored five goals in 12 games last year.

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