Boyds, Md., (7/25/20) – The National Women’s Soccer League announced today that Washington Spirit rookie forward Ashley Sanchez is the recipient of the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup Future Legend Award. As the fourth-overall pick, Sanchez came into the league knowing there would be high expectations. During the Challenge Cup, she gave a glimpse of how much she has to offer.
“It feels great to receive this award,” said Sanchez. “I wish we were still on the field competing, but I look forward to next year with my team to continue to grow and fight for an NWSL Championship.”
The 21-year-old is the youngest member on the Spirit squad, but showed the maturity of her play, as well as the impact she can have on the field. She played in all five Challenge Cup games for the Spirit, starting in four. She racked up 357 minutes played, the team’s fifth-highest player in minutes during the tournament.
Sanchez finished the Challenge Cup as the Spirit player who created the highest number of chances, and had the most key passes for the team, with eight chances created and seven key passes. One of the chances created was a phenomenal back heel flick that assisted defender Sam Staab’s equalizer against the Portland Thorns.
However, Sanchez’s involvement in the tournament didn’t stop there. She led the team in dribbles completed during the preliminary rounds with a total of 19, and also had the third-highest number of shots, taking a total of six shots with four on target. Through five games, she displayed her ability to both create a shot for herself, as well as create chances for teammates with her sharp dribbling ability.
Sanchez grew from game to game, getting more involved as the tournament progressed. Against the Houston Dash, she delivered four key passes, which were crucial to the Spirit’s win, which earned them the #2 seed heading into knockout play. In her last game of the Challenge Cup, she went three for three with shots and shots on goal, generating the most dangerous opportunities the Spirit had in the game.
“I am absolutely thrilled for Ashley and I can’t think of anyone else more deserving,” said Spirit Head Coach Richie Burke. “She’s been a joy to work with ever since she arrived at the club. I believe there is no ceiling to how good she can become. I look forward to a very bright future for Ashley in a Spirit jersey, and a National team jersey!”
Creating scoring opportunities and making key passes has always been a major piece of Sanchez’s game. She set the UCLA school record for assists with 42 in just three seasons, and she also scored 23 goals.
At the time of the Spirit’s exit from the tournament, Sanchez was the team leader in +/- per 90 minutes, a stat that calculates a team’s overall ability to score while a player is on the field. At +1.96, the Spirit scored, on average, two more goals per every 90 minutes with Sanchez on the field than they did with her off (via FBref.com).
Nevertheless, Sanchez is not new to high-intensity games and the pressure they bring, as she has participated in Youth National Team camps since 2013 and has played in three FIFA Women’s World Cups at the U-17 and U-20 level. In addition, in 2016 Sanchez became the first player in United States history to play in multiple world cups in the same year.