Ashley Sanchez is an American player who started playing football before reaching college by participating with Santa Anita SC, Legends FC and So Cal Blues. Then, she went on to play with UCLA Bruins from 2017 to 2019 in college, during which time she passed through most United States women’s national soccer team underage levels, including U14, U15, U17 and U20. All these experiences helped Sanchez a lot in improving her skills and getting the experience needed to play in more difficult senior leagues.
In 2020, she joined the NWSL’s Washington Spirit — her current club. Getting to play at Washington Spirit helped Ashley Sanchez a lot in terms of experience, and her consistent solid performances helped her to earn a place in the senior USWNT lately. What proves that Sanchez has got a great mentality and a professional attitude is that she exploited the opportunity she got at the USWNT in the best of ways and made things complicated for her manager in terms of future selections — a nice problem for any coach to have. In fact, Sanchez is one of the NWSL’s most creative and impactful players and since the player isn’t getting enough media attention nor credit for that, we decided to explore this player’s characteristics, skills and abilities in a tactical analysis taking the form of a scout report as we believe that Sanchez, who is already a very important player for Washington Spirit, has all that is needed to be one of USWNT’s most impactful players in the near future.
Positions and roles
Sanchez is a 23-year-old attacking midfielder who’s usually employed as an advanced playmaker in a 4-2-3-1 formation. This position allows Sanchez to have the freedom needed to move between the midfield and the penalty box, making sure to be the link between the central midfielders, wingers and striker(s). The American international impressively executes this role, relying mostly on her outstanding acceleration and “mazing run” abilities which allow her to have an advantage over her opponents in duels.
At the same time, the player’s dribbling and passing skills are good enough to allow her to serve her teammates well, dismark herself and find shooting opportunities. In fact, Sanchez often gets very close to strikers when the team is in possession and often tries to exchange passes either with the striker or with the wingers in order to find some space inside the box. Her dynamic movements in this area represent a reliable weapon for Washington Spirit, especially during counterattacks. Sanchez’s role in counterattacks is extremely important for the team as she is responsible for receiving the ball in midfield or even in her team’s own half and start running past opponents quickly until reaching the final third (and, sometimes, the box) before serving one of her teammates. This counterattacking run with the ball is important because it guarantees that numerical superiority is being generated quickly and without losing the ball. Sanchez is the team’s best fit for such a role.
Moreover, Sanchez can also play as a striker in a 4-3-3 formation, which is what happened in the team’s game against Portland Thorns this NWSL season. Being able to play various attacking roles is great for head coaches and for her team in general. Knowing that Sanchez’s skills are more suited for an advanced playmaker or a second striker role, she can be extremely dangerous when playing between the lines and supporting the striker. The following heatmap just shows how dynamic this player can be in the opponent’s half while taking into consideration the 5 last games only.
In terms of goalscoring, Sanchez is enjoying continuous development from this point of view and is proving that with every passing season. This season, she’s also started showcasing her goalscoring prowess and being decisive at international level, with her two goals against Uzbekistan in two friendly encounters saying to everyone that she deserves a bigger chance at the USWNT despite the existing competition from other talented and experienced players for every position. In fact, Sanchez’s goal in the first encounter against Uzbekistan was remarkable because the player showed most of what she is capable of in just one attack. As you can see in the following picture, and as soon as the USWNT switched the ball to the left-wing, she positioned herself between two opposition players and kept asking for a pass even before her teammate was able to receive the ball.
After receiving the ball, she immediately fixed her direct opponent, dribbled past her and cut inside while making the movement look easy before deciding to shoot at the best possible timing since she was surrounded by players, and one of these defenders was a second away from intercepting the ball if she didn’t shoot or dribble. Making the decision and executing it at the exact right timing was crucial in this action, but what made things even more outstanding is the execution of that shot. Sanchez succeeded in putting an adequate amount of power and precision into her curved shot despite not having a lot of time to think about it. Such actions prove the player’s excellent dribbling and shooting skills and most of all, highlight her particular personality and her confident decision-making inside the box.
Playmakers and second strikers are often required to support strikers with their key passes, penetrations and off the ball movements. But most of all, they need to have some solid shooting skills to score whenever needed because attacking midfielders usually find themselves in good shooting positions from outside and even inside the box. Sanchez proved several times at Washington Spirit that she is an excellent “shooter”. She knows how to curve the ball accurately while putting the required amount of power into her shot as we saw in the previous example, but she is also able to shoot with the laces instead of the interior part of the foot, putting all her power into the shot while not neglecting the accuracy part, just as she did against OL Reign in this action.
What is worth noting here as well is that Sanchez didn’t hesitate about shooting and showed confidence when executing her decision, which proves that she knows exactly what she doing as she is aware of what she could achieve. This might sound simple but it is very important for footballers as not every player can make decisions inside the final third with clear-mindedness and conviction when put in situations that require a lot of thinking about the possible alternatives — especially under pressure. Sanchez makes those decisions quickly while running and doesn’t overthink her choices when executing them, and that’s what helps her a lot in succeeding in the execution despite the complexity of some of her decisions.
This example was not the only time Sanchez shot on goal from outside the box. She was successful in doing so numerous times in some even more complicated situations like the one shown below. Sanchez received a backward pass from Rodman in this counterattacking action and as the pass was coming towards her, she saw Orlando Pride’s defence being reorganised and the players have fully retreated. She, therefore, decided to dribble past an opponent and shoot immediately towards the left upper angle of the goal while her body was oriented towards the right corner. This quick movement and shooting decision surprised the goalkeeper and didn’t give her enough time to react, and even if she did so, the shot was too accurate and powerful to be saved.
In addition to the aforementioned shooting techniques used by Sanchez on numerous occasions, the American international has also proven her abilities as a free-kick specialist. She was able to score a beautiful free-kick in the 2022’s NWSL Challenge Cup against Gotham FC with an excellent technique that didn’t give a chance for the goalkeeper to save the shot. She has also scored another free-kick last season with almost the same precision and technique. Therefore, Sanchez just needs to remain consistent with the quality of free kicks she had on these earlier occasions to confirm this important trait even further shortly. Sanchez has the ability to be both Washington Spirit and the USWNT’s regular free-kick taker if she continues being decisive on these plays as consistency is key when it comes to set pieces. The player can focus more on her accuracy in free-kicks during training and keep improving her technique because this particular specialisation will help her and her teams a lot during games, knowing that she is already being relied on for taking set-pieces at Washington Spirit.
Playmaking and passing
Sanchez is a very intelligent player who has all the necessary qualities for a playmaker, ranging from passing, vision, movements and, most of all, generosity in terms of passes. The player doesn’t neglect her teammates in the final third and usually looks for the best-positioned teammate before passing to her. Knowing when to resort to the individual solution and when to pass is extremely important in today’s football as such decisions can be positively crucial and they can ruin whole attacks if these decisions are wrong or too selfish. In addition to her generosity, Sanchez times her passes very well and has the techniques needed for providing key passes and assists more often.
She usually relies on her quick runs to destabilise her opponents while thinking about her next move or pass. Here, she launched a counter-attack and reached the final third while seeing two teammates asking for the ball, while a third player was waiting on the right-wing. Sanchez saw her direct opponent closing the space for passing to that wing and therefore she opted for a pass in space for her two other teammates. But what was special in this action is that Sanchez did not look at Trinity Rodman at all and did only see her run at the last second or so when she was already intending to pass. This leads us to the conclusion that Sanchez is one of the best NWSL players in terms of body usage and feinting especially when attempting to confuse direct opponents, and what helps her in being one of the best in this technique is her quickness in decisions, movements, runs and dribbles.
Sanchez has also proven to have the ability to be very accurate when it comes to crosses even though she usually relies on short passes, through passes, small chips or crosses from short distances. This is simply because she always has to play close to the attacking line and, therefore, she is not required to make crosses from long range. Yet, when being put in situations that require crossing, she executes her crosses with intelligence and accuracy and that’s why Washington Spirit often rely on her for taking corner-kicks for example.
Sanchez can also break the defensive lines by providing passes at the back of defenders for teammates asking for the ball, as the following picture shows. That’s one of Sanchez’s key roles and it is one of the things that make her a decisive attacking player for Washington Spirit, as she can achieve the same level of importance for the USWNT’s attack in the near future.
Ashley Sanchez has proven that she is one of the most crucial attacking players in the NWSL over the last couple of seasons at Washington Spirit, thanks to her consistent performances, quick accelerations, assists, goals and, most of all, confidence and accurate decision-making inside the final third. If she can remain at this same level and improve on these traits, then she will have a bright professional future in the upcoming years both in her club journey and in her international career, knowing that players with such characteristics are quite rare to find, even on a global scale and at the best teams of the world, including Lyon, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Arsenal, PSG and all the others — not just in the NWSL.