By Greg Bates
Photo Credit: Mike Janosz
After winning four straight Trinity League titles, the Servite (Anaheim, Calif.) boys soccer team added a big piece to its program.
Uriel Sanchez transferred to Servite following his freshman year at nearby Santiago (Garden Grove). The impact Sanchez has had for the Friars has been immense. In his first two seasons, he's helped Servite extend its league title run to six.
"He is extremely talented," Servite coach Jon Spencer said. "We have been very fortunate to have him at Servite. This year kind of helped me understand him a lot more. Since he's been at Servite, he's been a solid player. But this year he stepped into his own as a competitor and a winner. He showed me this is a guy that really cares about doing the work and doing what it takes to get the results. I was impressed by that."
Sanchez was named the Trinity League Player of the Year as a junior as well as taking home All-CIF Southern Section Division 1 and All-Orange County.
"He was just really head and shoulders the best player in our league," Spencer said.
Sanchez was surprised he was voted as the league's top player.
"Honestly, I was like happy to hear that because I worked hard for it," Sanchez said. "It was a relief."
Individual awards are great but that's not what Sanchez strives for. It's the team accolades that count for him.
"Since I was little my dad taught me losing is not OK, so it's just became a habit," Sanchez said. "It's a mental state of mind to just always try hard no matter what. It could only be one play that could change a whole game."
With all his team's success, more honors trickle in all the time for Sanchez, including at the national level.
Sanchez is one of 250 high school juniors to earn the distinction Allstate All-American and will be considered for participation in the Allstate All-America Cup on July 31 in Orlando. The contest will be broadcast on ESPNU and participants will be recognized later that night at halftime of MLS All-Star Game.
Former Major League Soccer and U.S. men's national team members Taylor Twellman and Brian McBride will join the likes of former U.S. women's national soccer team standouts and Olympic gold medalists Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain to coach and mentor these promising high school players at the event.
"I'm extremely grateful," said Sanchez about being in the running to play in the event. "It's definitely an honor to be considered for that."
Sanchez, who is 5-foot-8 and 130 pounds, was given some added responsibility this season by his coach. Spencer had his star player rotate between two positions: outside winger and central midfielder.
Sanchez played the majority of his minutes in the middle of the field but if his team needed a heavier offensive attack, he moved to winger.
"I definitely had to change the way I played," Sanchez said. "In the outside position, I was like more able to take the ball on and more free one-on-one. In the middle, I had to like pass more, be like more aware of my surroundings instead of just getting the ball and going down the line."
Spencer, who loved how Sanchez adapted to his new role, certainly likes Sanchez's versatility on the field.
"He could probably six positions on the field if he really wanted to," Spencer said.
The 17-year-old said his best traits as a player are his awareness on and off the ball and well as being able to create with his dribbling skills.
"Technically, he's really strong," Sanchez said. "I think his work rate is on another level as far as what most players in a similar position are able to do," Spencer said.
During his two years at Servite, Sanchez hasn't tallied eye-popping numbers with seven goals and 12 assists. But his impact goes far beyond the numbers.
"He'll score goals when he needs to," Spencer said. "He scored goals in some big games this year. He's just not going to put up 25-30 goals."
Sanchez, who outside of the high school team plays for the Pateadores Soccer Club in Costa Mesa, Calif., is starting to get heavily recruited. The majority of the top soccer colleges in California are on his radar. His top three schools at this point include UCLA, UC-Santa Barbara and San Diego State.
"He's NCAA Division I talent," Spencer said. "I think he's going to have some pretty good options in front of him."