By GRANT CZUBINSKI – USLSoccer.com Contributor
Friday, March 4, 2016
SAN ANTONIO - If you’ve been keeping up with San Antonio FC since the club’s foundation, the desire to field a contender in its first year has been apparent. With Spurs Sports & Entertainment running the club, San Antonio’s construction of the organization and roster has been both ambitious and amazing.
In just over two months, San Antonio has assembled an imposing roster that includes a number of players with top-level experience. The club is offering many former MLS players a platform to showcase their skills within a first-class organization as it aims for immediate success.
Among those players is Manolo Sanchez, who joined San Antonio last week after being released from the New York Red Bulls’ preseason camp. A natural winger who can play anywhere along the front line, Sanchez should be a key cog in San Antonio’s attacking corps. After just a week with the team, the former Red Bull has been thoroughly impressed with what he’s seen out of the club.
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“[Spurs Sports & Entertainment] have been brilliant in providing us with all the things we need to be successful and to minimize stress and distractions for us, and they’re going to continue to provide more for us,” he said this week. “I kind of expected it, but even still to see it materialize so quickly only a week into preseason has been really impressive.”
As impressed as Sanchez has been with what San Antonio FC has offered thus far, the Philadelphia native had an idea of what to expect upon signing for the Mission City outfit. With Spurs Sports & Entertainment’s reputation as a premier ownership group with a proven record of success in the NBA, Sanchez assumed that the ownership group would approach San Antonio FC’s quest for success in the same fashion. It was a huge factor in his signing for the club.
“I was obviously weighing up several different offers, and what I was looking for was, if I wasn’t going to be in MLS, I wanted the quickest route back into MLS,” he said. “Obviously my ultimate goal is to play at the highest level, and I felt that after speaking with Darren Powell that not only was the Spurs organization an MLS-caliber organization, but the players, the coaching staff, and the environment on the field was going to be MLS-caliber as well.”
Sanchez spent the majority of the 2015 season with New York Red Bulls II, where he tallied four goals and one assist in 22 games. His play in the USL earned Sanchez playing time at the MLS level, where he appeared in three regular-season games for the Red Bulls. It was a memorable experience for Sanchez, who credits his ability to break into New York’s Supporters’ Shield-winning MLS lineup to his time playing in the USL.
“I think that there is a lot of other situations that it could have been that I was with the first team but not getting very many games because of the level and quality of the first team keeping me out, but having that flexibility and option to play USL games, I think was really critical for my development,” he said. “I think in the end you learn a lot on the practice field and in the video room, but I think you learn the most about yourself in games, and I was able to learn a lot about myself. I was able to take a lot away from those games in USL and really come away confident in terms of where I stack up at the USL and MLS level.
“Without the experience, the games, and the learning curve that I experienced in the USL, I am not sure that I would have been as successful in MLS, because I was staying sharp and staying match fit while playing in the USL. So, I think that I was able to determine that I deserve to be at this level, that I belong here, but at the same time I look back on my USL run of games and really see that as a vital reason why.”
Sanchez’s stellar play for both Red Bulls sides earned him a call up to the Puerto Rican national team in December, as he took part in a friendly in against New York City FC in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. It was an experience that Sanchez says was “a really special moment.”
Showing both experience and promise, it is no wonder that Sanchez had multiple offers to consider just a few weeks ago. Now that he is a member of SAFC, Sanchez is ready to draw on his experience to help San Antonio thrive. He acknowledges the pressure for the club to succeed from the outset, but doesn’t shy away from the expectations thrust upon the new team.
“I think the expectations are for excellence and success. I don’t think that the Spurs mince words when they say that they are a first-class organization who expect first-class results,” he said. “And I think that that’s why all of the talent has amassed here the way it has. I think that the expectations are nothing more than excellence, and I think that every guy on the team is actually looking forward to delivering that.”
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Though he has only been around his teammates and coaching staff for a little over a week, Sanchez firmly believes that the club can live up to that bar of excellence. What he’s seen during his first week of training with the club fully enforces that belief.
“I think that we have a very good team with high character guys,” he said. “I also have to say that I have been very impressed with the quality of the players, the quality of the training sessions. The speed of play has been really pleasing to me, especially coming from a place like Red Bull where the high-press, high-tempo style was vital to our game.
“I have really been impressed with the speed of play here in San Antonio so far. We have some really good players, so I think that while we have to work on the challenges of the system and learn each other’s tendencies, I think that there is a really, really bright future and that we’ve been given everything we need to succeed. It is just up to us to really commit to it and implement all of the things we need to.”
With the start of San Antonio’s FC inaugural foray in the USL just one month away, Sanchez – already thoroughly impressed with what he’s experienced thus far – is excited to suit up and see the fans at the club’s home opener at Toyota Field.“Since I have been in preseason I’ve been kept in a bit, but I can see through social media that people are really excited, that people are really taking initiative to get involved, to support,” he said. “I have been really impressed with not only the effort on our side, but also the effort on the fans, the people’s side. They’ve been really engaged, really supportive, and really excited, and I think that it is all going to culminate in a wonderful home opener April 9.”