María Sánchez, San Diego Wave FC
María Sánchez joined San Diego Wave FC in April; she has represented the Mexican women's national team in over 50 games Via San Diego Wave FC Communications

SEATTLE - Mexican international María Sánchez never had a doubt about what she wanted to be. Raised in the small town of American Falls in Idaho, Sánchez was always the only girl playing soccer and her struggles made her into the professional she is now. Sánchez sat with The Latin Times in an exclusive interview to talk about her path, the current state of women's soccer, and what it means to her being one of the faces of Latin women in the sport.

On her childhood

"For me it was obviously tough within itself for being from Idaho. I don't think a lot of scouts turn their heads and recruit in Idaho. I am from a town of 4,500 people with a lot of immigrant workers, like my parents. And with no club soccer around me, which is literally the only way to make it to this level in the U.S., it was pretty difficult," she said.

"I never had a doubt in what I wanted to become. I had many obstacles but I never let any of them stop me from believing that I was going to accomplish my dream."

On her struggles

"The financial aspect was the biggest part of it all. There was a travel team 20 miles from American Falls and I remember taking the paper home to my parents showing them it was only $350 to play on the team, but it wasn't even a possibility, $350 was a lot to them at that time," Sánchez said.

"Overall it was never a possibility for me to join a travel team, plus I also grew up in a very traditional Mexican household, so it was hard at first for my parents to accept a girl playing soccer. I would have to sneak out of the house to play soccer with the boys because my parents never liked seeing me out there being the only girl playing."

"It took them a while to kind of accept that their daughter was going to be a soccer player until they saw that I could go to college on a scholarship. We talk about it now, and maybe I would not be where I am if there was nothing in the way for me to play soccer."

On the Mexican women's national team

"There has been a lot of improvement in the last year and a half. A lot of changes in staff, the federation, and you can tell in the improvement we have had. Being part of the team that made history at the W Gold Cup was great. Beating the United States was obviously very cool for our national team but I know we don't want to stop there. We want to keep on improving and not just go to these tournaments to compete, but we want to actually challenge other teams."

On what she remembers the most from beating the USWNT at the W Gold Cup

"Before the game, we were all aware that it had been years since the last time we beat them (USWNT) and that it had only been done a couple of times. We knew it was going to be a great challenge but we were very confident. We all trusted each other. Being in that group huddle after the final whistle was a special moment. Seeing the emotions on the player's faces...that moment was priceless."

On the rise of women's soccer in Mexico

"Having top teams that invest in their women's programs deserve a lot of credit because it's helping out women's soccer in Mexico to keep growing both at the national team level and at the domestic level."

On the creation of more women's competitions around the world

"I think it is really important to have these tournaments where you can see different teams and clubs competing against each other. I think it can create rivalries and help grow the game Having these games across borders can also help players be seen and scouted. In my opinion, it is very important for the growth of women's soccer."

María Sánchez the role model

After having a successful collegiate career, Sánchez was drafted by the Chicago Red Stars in 2019. She said that joining NWSL was a dream she had ever since she was a little girl.

On becoming a professional soccer player

"To me, it was a huge accomplishment. When I was in college and looked at the NWSL, one of the best leagues in the world, something that I always noticed was that no Mexican would really play. And if they were on the team, they would not get much recognition or minutes. For me, a huge goal was to make history in this league. I wanted teams to be saying that there was a Mexican making a difference in the league."

María Sánchez, San Diego Wave FC
María Sánchez signing autographs for fans at a San Diego Wave FC game Via San Diego Wave FC Communications

But before she was a pro, Sánchez was a passionate soccer fan and, just like any other kid, she had her own idols. Her biggest idol was her now teammate Alex Morgan. Sánchez met the two-time World Cup winner 10 years ago, but she says she still remembers it as if it had been yesterday.

On meeting Alex Morgan

"I remember the exact day. It was the first professional game I had experienced and it just happened to be a Mexico vs United States game. I was with my friends from American Falls wearing my Mexico jersey and Alex Morgan just happened to go to the area where me and my friends were sitting," Sánchez remembers.

"It was the only thing we talked about in the three-hour car ride back home. I posted the picture on my Instagram with a caption that said 'best day of my life'. Now being her teammate, to me it is insane. I have to act normal because we are professional athletes, you know. It is something so special being at every training and Alex Morgan is there when 10 years ago I was just a kid from Idaho."

María Sánchez taking a selfie with Alex Morgan back in 2014

On being a role model to new generations

"Sometimes I have to remind myself of that. The way I grew up, it was always underestimating myself and I think that is what helped me get to where I am. It is something I still struggle with and I have to remind myself that there is people looking up to me."

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