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USWNT World Cup player preview: Get to know Ashley Sanchez

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USWNT midfielder Ashley Sanchez has said her World Cup role didn't necessarily match her expectations. (John Todd/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Plenty of new faces are heading Down Under with the U.S. women’s national team for the World Cup. Just Women’s Sports is taking a look at a few of the newcomers and introducing them to fans new and old.

Ashley Sanchez

Age: 24 years old
Position: Midfielder
USWNT debut: Nov. 30, 2021 vs. Australia
Total caps: 25

How has she looked in her NWSL season?

Sanchez has had a strong start to the NWSL season with the Washington Spirit, who sit two points out of the top spot in the standings at the World Cup break. She’s developing into her role as a midfielder in her third season, and her growth can be credited in part to the Spirit bringing back Mark Parsons as their head coach. Yet while Parsons has directed his players to funnel the ball through Sanchez, from there the attacking midfielder has taken the role and made it her own.

Through 13 matches, Sanchez has four goals and one assist. In 19 matches last season, she had three goals and five assists; through 25 matches in 2021, she had five goals and no assists. She also been creating chances, with 31 shots, 13 of those on target. Her pass completion has been solid as well, with the midfielder completing 68.6% of her passes. Where Sanchez thrives, though, is in the air, having controlled 71 aerials.

What does she bring to the USWNT?

While Sanchez is still coming into her own, she brings a pressing ability to the midfield that the team could use. She also brings instant chemistry with best friend, Spirit teammate and USWNT forward Trinity Rodman, who could prove just as valuable in Australia and New Zealand. Spirit midfielder Andi Sullivan and goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury and also join the pair on the USWNT roster, which Sanchez has said will be helpful as she navigates her first World Cup.

“There’s not a lot of people that have that many players on their club team on this team,” she told Just Women’s Sports. “But it’s just been nice having people that can relate and you can go to that you’re close with. And it is a special experience being that it’s all of our first World Cups are kind of going through and navigating with each other.”

Sanchez possesses similarities in technical control to Rose Lavelle. While she’s not as smooth, she does hold the ability to move and shift quickly, giving her a skillset that varies from Lavelle just enough to make it difficult for opposing defenses to know what to look for between the two.

The way she pays attention to those around her, and moves accordingly, should be a boon for a USWNT offense as it looks to break down opposing defenses. And Sanchez’s ability to match her teammates helps her to know how to create those chances.

“I feel like, being in the midfield, we’re obviously always moving off each other. But I feel like sometimes in the game, when you might not have had too many attacking opportunities, just try something different,” she said. “Even if it doesn’t work out, you try something once and maybe the defense steps because they think you’re gonna do it again, or that might move them in certain ways. So even if it doesn’t work out initially, it might work out the next time, or it might open up something different.

“So I feel like we’re in a unique position where we can kind of do stuff like that. Obviously defense is probably not going to play the risky paths. It’s nice to be able to be in a position where you can win.”

What have USWNT coaches and teammates said about Sanchez?

Vlatko Andonovski, head coach: “She’s got special qualities on the ball. It’s not easy to synchronize her movements right away because she hasn’t played much with Alex (Morgan]) but when they do it, I think it worked very well. We are very happy where she’s at, positionally and happy where she’s at in the time of her stage of development.”

Kelley O’Hara, defender: “She’s a player than I think has a really bright future and has already done some really big things. As a player, you’ve gotta decide, like, who do I want to be, what do I want to become. And I think that’s something that she’s doing right now. … I think the way I describe her is really crafty, super technical, fun player to watch. … When everybody thinks of Ashley Sanchez, that’s what they think of.”