For Ilie Sanchez and Sporting KC, La Masia connection pays dividends

Ilie Sanchez Sporting KC

When midfielder Ilie Sanchez signed with Sporting Kansas City, he became the third from Barcelona’s famed La Masia Academy to make the jump.

Oriol Rosell and Jordi Quintilla were previous Sporting products from La Masia. Rosell and Quintilla’s experiences helped convince Sanchez that Sporting KC was the place to be.

“I played with them in the second team, and they talked about the club,” Sanchez said. “They talked about the coaches. It’s difficult when you don’t know about the club who wants you, but you have to be confident and trust what they say. I talked with (Rosell and Quintilla) and now I’m for sure that I’m right here.”

Speaking with manager Peter Vermes and assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin sealed the deal.

“I’m here because before I came, I talked with Peter, and with Kerry,” Sanchez said. “(Peter) explained to me his mentality and their mentality. I think this club, we have a similar philosophy as in Barcelona. Here it starts with us, with Peter in this case, and goes down to all the teams. I think every team in this club plays a really similar way.”

With proper positioning being so critical in soccer, it often takes new players time to adapt to the playing style of their new team and there can be a steep learning curve, but it didn’t take Sanchez long to fit in.

“Their mentality is the same as my mentality,” he explained. “It’s easy to adapt, to be here and to play from the first moment like I am.”

Indeed, Ilie Sanchez adapted quickly to the defensive focus, as SKC has become the stingiest defense in the league.

The club recorded shutouts in three of their first four matches and didn’t allow more than one goal until a 2-0 loss to Minnesota United FC May 7.

While he is still searching for his first MLS goal – he has taken eight shots, one on goal – Sanchez is focused more on team success.

“Most important for me, is the idea of how we play, how we win the games,” he said. “The basic idea is the same. We have different details, but at the end we want to make chances, with passes, with the execution, with my teammates. All of us, we have a specific job around the team. We have to understand that we play for the team, not for us.

“I try to be a team player, so, I try to make my teammates better. I know my teammates, for sure, make me better. My strength is to make passes to my teammates and move the ball fast, as fast as I can. Quick passes, good position in the field and try to give the best solution to the teammate who has the ball.”

Being a conduit to provide good options for his teammates is Sanchez’s strength.

“He’s proven he’s the typical Barcelona player that plays in that defensive midfielder role,” teammate Benny Feilhaber said. “He’s extremely comfortable on the ball. I think he helps our entire back line feel comfortable, as well, playing out of the back, possessing the ball. I think inevitably that just helps us build out of the back with a lot more potential.”

Sanchez’s adjustment to life in the MLS has been easier than his initial experience at La Masia.

The Barcelona native grew up with La Masia football and, although he didn’t live there like many players, he took meals there and trained on their fields. But he didn’t fit in at first.

“At the beginning it was difficult because they have a system of how they play, how they train,” he said. “For me, it was really difficult to understand the system. The first five months I didn’t know where I am, where I have to be on the field, how I have to make the passes.”

Once he was able to truly adopt the La Masia style of play, Ilie Sanchez felt a lot more comfortable on the pitch.

“After that I could understand that we play a different game,” he said. “It was a really good time for me. I was there for seven years, five in the second team. For me it was the best time of my life.”

Ilie Sanchez joined the FC Barcelona B side for the 2009-10 season and played 114 games over five years with the squad before going to Germany to play 26 games for 1860 Munich and then finally being loaned back to Spain where he played 28 games for CF Eiche in the Spanish Segunda Division.

It was at Barcelona B where he played with Rosell and Quintilla, and where he learned about Sporting KC.

One thing he heard was how great the game day atmosphere is at Children’s Mercy Park, where Sporting is 5-0-1 this year.

“Oriol, Jordi, all of my teammates, they explained to me that one of the best things that we have here is the atmosphere in this stadium,” Ilie Sanchez said. “(Oriol) explained that I will enjoy it a lot at home and I asked him if it’s because of the stadium, because of the field, and he said ‘no.’ He said we have the most important thing here, and it’s the atmosphere.”

The atmosphere and MLS style of play are also interesting to Sanchez.

“In Spain, we know that this league, the MLS in this country, is growing up really, really fast,” he said. “One of the reasons why I’m here is also for the league, because I think the league is growing really fast. It’s not an easy league: the level, the conditions, the players who come here. So, it’s really will be an important league. I think outside of Europe now, it’s the best league. I think that it’s a really quality league.

“People think it’s a fast league, a physical league, but I think that we can see here, also, good players, good things, good styles. Any team can win the league. You can see it in the tables. That’s important. Maybe in Europe if you have money, you can win. Here, all the teams have the same money, the same possibilities. It’s more how they make use of this money. So, I’m happy here.”

SKC went into June leading the Western Conference. Ilie Sanchez does not want to make predictions, however, about Sporting winning the MLS championship.

“I think that we have a really clear answer, but we don’t have to show this answer because if we show, we create an expectation,” he said. “I think that we must be calm and work in silence. At home, we are powerful. Away, it’s another movie; it’s another kind of game.”

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Article by Marc Bowman

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