Sanchez finding role with Crew, home in Columbus
Big things were expected when Matias Sanchez's signing was announced in February, but his impact was not immediate.
A defensive midfielder from Argentina expected to solidify a defense that had struggled towards the close of last season, Sanchez came with quite the pedigree. That included being part of the Argentine team that won the U-20 World Cup in 2007, when he played in five games, starting three, and a stint with Argentine giants Estudiantes where he was a part of the squad that secured the 2009 Copa Libertadores, crowning the best team in South America.
That pedigree first attracted the Crew. Assistant coach Ricardo Iribarren highlighted Sanchez’s strengths, “He’s a really smart player with a lot of experience.” adding, “He’s played in a lot of important games and won championships internationally and for his club.”
As he tried to adapt to the physical nature of the league, Sanchez would only see action in four of the Crew's first nine games, all as a substitute, accumulating 37 minutes.
"(MLS) is a lot different than the Argentine Primera Division," Sanchez said. "It was difficult at the beginning"
The big signing the team had brought in was suddenly starting to look like a bust who was reduced to spot duty, but a growing injury crisis would hand him another chance.
That opportunity would come with the preferred starters Agustin Viana and Danny O'Rourke out of the lineup due to injury. Sanchez would start in the Crew's loss against Colorado on May 11th. Even in defeat he impressed with his aggressive defense and ability to fire off passes with pinpoint accuracy.
Even as other midfielders have returned to fitness, he hasn't been out of the lineup since, starting six straight games, and the recent run of games has allowed Sanchez to reach his comfort zone.
"It took me nine games to start, but I’m starting to feel much better after each game," he said. Iribarren agrees that the Crew are finally seeing the player they signed in February, "It took him a little while to adapt to the league, but finally he understands how this league works and he’s helping us a lot." Sanchez has settled a struggling midfield with his cerebral play and bulldog mentality. According to Opta, the league’s stats tracking partner, he’s averaged nearly three tackles a game, second to Agustin Viana on the team.
With six straight starts, Sanchez is also starting to develop connections with his new teammates. He appreciates the work that fellow midfielder Danny O’Rourke puts in and likes playing alongside Federico "Pipa" Higuain, Bernardo Anor and Dominic Oduro.
“(Danny) is always a player who is in the right position.” said Sanchez, “It frees me to interact more with Pipa, Bernardo, and Oduro.
“Pipa has great touch and Dominic has a lot of great diagonal runs that we are able to use.”
Off the field, Sanchez is also starting to find his stride. Fellow South Americans Higuain and Agustin Viana have eased the transition.
“They come from cultures that are almost the same as mine. Beyond that, they are also very good people.” Sanchez said.
Sanchez had special praise for Iribarren in helping him adjust.
"(He) gave us a lot of help on and off the field," Sanchez said. "It gives us a lot of trust and confidence.”
After a rough start to the season, Sanchez is finally starting to settle in Columbus.
“Ever since the moment I got here, the team has welcomed me," he said. “The city is very pretty. It makes the adaptation process a lot faster. It’s made it much easier for me and my family to adapt and I can honestly say we are very happy at the moment."
Black and Gold fans are hoping that Sanchez continues to feel at home in Ohio after a string of impressive performances.