SUBMITTED PHOTO - University of Portland senior and Canby High alumnus Eddie Sanchez led his team to a West Coast Conference title and earned WCC Player of the Year honors.
University of Portland men’s soccer player Eddie Sanchez achieved individual success at the collegiate level instantaneously.

He won West Coach Conference Freshman of the Year honors in 2013, led the team with 12 goals and finished with the most points in league (27).

Although he continued to play at an all-league level his sophomore and junior years, injuries and a continued lack of team success faded the luster of his initially illuminating start.

But in his final year of eligibility, he not only topped his freshman season performance but also led the Pilots to their best season in over a decade.

The Pilots garnered their first WCC title since 2002 and Sanchez received League Player of the Year honors.

Like a famous actor who wins an Oscar in his or her first blockbuster flick, Sanchez felt pressure to top his scintillating freshman season performance.

But opposing teams utilized an entire season’s worth of film to dissect Sanchez game and swayed their tactics toward stopping him. So Sanchez had to play much better to achieve the same results and nagging groin and hamstring injuries kept him from reaching his apex his sophomore and junior seasons.

“People talk about sophomore slumps and all that stuff. It was difficult because people try to understand the way you play, watch video on you. Players know how to play against you. It becomes difficult and you try to work around it,” Sanchez said.

Again, Sanchez continued to play well. He scored five goals in each of the two seasons and 24 combined points. But that didn’t match his 27-point output his freshman year.

Meanwhile, University of Portland finished with just one conference win in his sophomore and junior seasons combined.

The push to league supremacy began when University of Portland head soccer coach Nick Carlin-Voigt took over the program last January.

Sanchez says the team’s playing style didn’t change much with Carlin-Voigt at the helm but its culture did. The team dined together more often, performed more activities outside of practice and felt more connected.

“He did a really good job of bringing us together, helping us believe in each other and trusting one another. It brought us together as a family,” Sanchez said.

Carlin-Voigt immediately identified Sanchez’ uncanny technical skills and scoring prowess.

But he expects inimitable effort and commitment from his best players and demanded Sanchez meet his requirements.

“When I got here I believed my philosophy is that the top players need to have the most demanding standards. A lot of coaches let their best players float and do what they want. My mindset was ‘We are going to go where he goes,’” Carlin-Voigt said.

So he trained Sanchez hard – upping his fitness level and attention to detail, honing his pressure defense, pouring over film with him and making him aware that he couldn’t take anything for granted.

Sanchez adhered and the two developed a strong relationship.

“Eddie is fiercely loyal and is a great competitor. He’s always supported my coaching style and everything we’ve been teaching and preaching. His values of loyalty, family, community are great core values,” Carlin-Voigt said.

For a few games early in the season, though, Sanchez came off the bench. Under Carlin-Voigt, no starting spot is guaranteed.

“He didn’t earn the right to start. That helped him and the team be more grounded and humble,” he said. “We just needed to realize the team wasn’t going to revolve around him and he handled it professionally.”

Sanchez did not accumulate a point in his first four games. But it was only a matter of time before he would catch fire.

The Canby High graduate scored two goals in his subsequent two games, delivered a one goal, two assist performance against UC-Irvine Sept. 25, scored a hat-trick against Gonzaga the next game and distributed five assists in the following four games. Not to mention, his bicycle kick finish against Evansville earned him the sixth spot on Sportscenter’s top 10 plays.

In his best season ever in terms of distribution, Sanchez accumulated six goals, seven assists and 19 total points.

“We had different players that could score and that allowed me to do different stuff. Having players that can make plays makes it easier,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez helped mentor freshman forward Benji Michel – another precocious budding star.

Like Sanchez, Michel had a tough start to the season – going goal-less in his first five games.

But both players snapped out of their funk and became the best scoring duo in the conference. Benji led the team with 10 goals and 24 points.

“I was really proud of Eddie in the steps he took and the leadership he exhibited,” Carlin-Voigt said.

Heading into the final regular season game of the season against St. Mary’s, the Pilots needed a win to seal their first league title in 14 years. Once they won 1-0, fans rushed the field and Sanchez celebrated with the rabid Pilot contingent.

“It was crazy. It was unreal, the stuff you see on TV. You don’t think something like that would happen and it happened to you at home. There is no better way to go out,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez learned of his WCC Player of the Year award during a flight to Albuquerque, New Mexico for the team’s NCAA Men’s Soccer Championships first round playoff game.

“It was a fun season. I couldn’t have done it without my teammates,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez accumulated a yellow card against St. Mary’s – barring him from playing in the New Mexico game due to yellow card accumulation. The Pilots lost 6-5 in penalty kicks.

“You never want to be on the sidelines watching. It’s difficult. I’m immensely proud of the boys. They poured their hearts out,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez will graduate in December with a degree in marketing and hopes to earn an invite to the Major League Soccer combine.

“I think he has a future. It’s going to come down to his mindset, how much he sacrifices and how bad he wants it,” Carlin-Voigt said.

No matter how Sanchez’ professional career plays out, he can look fondly on a senior year in which he merged individual excellence with team success.

“He can leave as a champion and driving force behind that reset in our culture. His quality speaks for itself. When you combine the hard work with the talent you saw him reach peak performance,” Carlin-Voigt said. “He really put Portland back on the map.”

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