Maria Sanchez

American Falls native Maria Sanchez is in her first season with the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women’s Soccer League.

It was the same old Maria Sanchez, who had embarrassed defenders in childhood pickup games as well as the high school and college levels.

On May 12, Sanchez said she made a professional soccer player look foolish, slipping the ball through the defender’s legs to get by, in Sanchez’s first appearance in a National Women’s Soccer League game.

The American Falls High School graduate said it was one of the top moments of her current season because it illustrated her “flashy” style of play.

The Chicago Red Stars forward recorded 24 minutes in her pro debut, which ended in a 3-1 home win over North Carolina.

“I was nervous because it was my first pro game, but I think it was very similar to when I played my first minutes at the World Cup,” Sanchez said. “So it wasn’t too big. But obviously, it was one of my biggest dreams that I accomplished, so it did feel special.”

Sanchez spoke to the Journal nine days before that memorable match about not appearing in Chicago’s first three regular-season games, saying she was going to remain optimistic while admitting disappointment.

“Just like any other player, not getting any minutes is very hard,” Sanchez said after Chicago’s May 3 game at Utah. “But I understand everybody goes through that. I think how I answer to that will determine who I really am on this team.”

After that, the first-year pro soccer player has played in six of Chicago’s last seven matches. For those six appearances, the left-winger averaged 18 minutes per game. She tallied her first-ever shot on goal and a career-high two shots in a 2-1 loss to New Jersey in her last performance Saturday.

Sanchez said she always felt like she was a part of the squad, but logging playing time means she’s a part of the full experience.

“It did give me a lot of confidence and made me feel more involved on the team,” Sanchez said.

More than two months of the regular season remains. The Red Stars (4-5-2) need to move up two spots from sixth place to earn a berth in NWSL’s four-team playoff.

Chicago will see the return of Women’s World Cup participants, including four Americans who won it all. The re-introduction of those players could mean Sanchez’s playing time declines. She said she did not know what was in store for her for the rest of the season.

Sanchez now has her own international soccer obligations. The Mexican women’s national team, which didn’t compete in the World Cup, announced Monday that Sanchez would be on its 24-player roster for two mid-July friendlies. She has 13 career caps and three goals at the international level.