If there’s one great thing about the US Open Cup, it’s that it allows opportunities to a number of players on the fringes of the teamsheet. Some are youngsters, who gain invaluable experience after getting first team minutes. Others are squad players, who are trying to prove that they deserve an extended run out in the first team. Even big name players, who are returning from injury, use the Open Cup as a chance to regain some much needed fitness.
The Fire’s Open Cup tie against Columbus last night gave a returning Richard Sanchez a huge chance to prove why he should be the man between the sticks for Chicago.
Sanchez, who came in near the end of last season, was forced to start his Fire career on the bench, playing second fiddle to Matt Lampson. Once he was traded away during the offseason, and the Fire passed on bringing in a replacement, it became clear that Sanchez would be the number one to start the year.
He got off to a shaky start to the campaign, with early errors costing the Men In Red. But the Californian native begun to improve greatly, and made a number of big saves to secure wins against the Crew and the Red Bulls.
Unfortunately, another dip in form saw him relegated to the bench soon after, with Patrick McClain getting the nod ahead of him. The decision seemed justified early on, with the new number one pulling off some heroics to help the Fire win in Orlando. Sadly, he wouldn’t last long in the Chicago goal, as McClain came out injured in the most recent league game with a hamstring strain, and will be out of action for about a month. Sanchez didn’t have to do much the rest of the game against San Jose, conceding once but still picking up the win.
Sanchez was gifted a second chance to cement a starting spot in the Fire goal, and had his last night offered a big opportunity to prove himself. Sanchez grabbed the opportunity with both hands, helping guide Chicago through to the next round of the Open Cup.
The former Dallas man had a decent enough opening 120 minutes, hands largely tied on either of the goals he conceding but able to make a few saves when he could during the match. Yet it would be in the penalty shootout where Sanchez would shine.
He came up big early, saving Columbus’ second penalty to tie up the scores after Nemanja Nikolic missed the Fire’s opening spot kick. He went on to guess the right way on three occasions, but couldn’t stop some expertly taken penalties by Columbus.
The shootout went all the way to the eleventh round, which meant it was time for the goalkeepers.
Sanchez went first, and proved his abilities on the ball by coolly slotting home. He then played some mind games, grabbing the ball and keeping it away from the Columbus goalie before tossing it at his feet. The tactic worked, as Sanchez guessed the right way, and was able to push the ball unto the post, winning the tie for Chicago.
Now, fans will hope Sanchez can build momentum off of this performance. It’s tough for a goalie to deal with being benched, and it’s even harder to come back into the team so soon after due to injury. Confidence is key, especially for a young keeper, as his confidence must’ve been shot after being taken out of the starting lineup. His match-winning play should allow Sanchez to gain some of that confidence back, and help him in the next few games.
Sanchez been gifted a second chance. If he keeps doing what he’s doing, and manages the occasional feat of heroism, he should be able to seize this moment and cement himself as the Fire’s starting goalkeeper for the future.