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SANCHEZ MAKES A SPLASH : Anaheim indoor soccer team signs the former Cal State L.A. athlete after he outshines 100 contenders.

August 07, 1994|KIRBY LEE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Juan Carlos Sanchez couldn't have asked for a better summer job--or a career.

But whether or not a career is in the making, the 22-year-old former Cal State Los Angeles athlete is content to spend the summer as a member of the Anaheim Splash. Sanchez was chosen from nearly 100 players from a two-day open tryout for the Continental Indoor Soccer League team in April.

"There were so many people. I really didn't take it all that serious," Sanchez said. "I went out there to see what would happen. I really didn't go out there and say, 'I'm going to make it.' "

Sanchez, who graduated from Cal State L.A. with a degree in physical education in June, had planned to try to play in Mexico this summer (His father, Aurelio, played professional soccer there for three years). From there, Sanchez intended to return to school in September to study physical therapy.

But Sanchez's plans have been put on hold, at least for the moment.

"I was going to give it my last shot at professional soccer this summer, but this opportunity popped up," said Sanchez, who has renewed aspirations of playing in the American Pro Soccer League this winter. "My goal is to play outdoors. But if there is a future here for me indoors, I'm willing to take it."

Sanchez seized his opportunity in training camp. He had five goals and four assists in three preseason games, prompting the Splash to offer the 5-9, 161-pound forward a two-year contract.

"We knew the majority of the players we wanted, but we had an open invitation to see what kind of talent was out there in case we did find a diamond in the rough. And we found Juan," Splash coach George Fernandez said.

Sanchez, the Splash's youngest player, though, was far from an unknown commodity.

Last fall, he was named to the NCAA Division II Western Region team and earned All-California Collegiate Athletic Assn. first-team honors for the second year in a row.

As a senior at Garey High in Pomona in 1989, Sanchez was the Hacienda League's most valuable player and a member of the CIF Southern Section 3-A Division first team after helping the Vikings go undefeated in league play for the fourth consecutive season.

The Continental League, formed in 1993, is the largest professional soccer league in the United States with 14 franchises. The Splash was formerly the L.A. United, one of the league's seven charter teams. Ogden Facility Management, the company that operates the Anaheim Arena, purchased the L.A. United from Laker owner Jerry Buss and moved the team to Anaheim.

CISL games are played on a field similar to the dimensions of an ice hockey rink, 200 feet long and 85 feet wide, and surrounded by dasher boards topped with plexiglass.

Unlike outdoor soccer with 11 players on a side, teams are allowed five players and a goalkeeper. The game consists of four 15-minute quarters and the season runs from June through September with 28 regular-season matches.

"It's faster than playing outdoors and you have less space, so everything seems 100 miles per hour," Sanchez said.

"Here, you have to do everything at full speed. We have two-minute shifts and you're in and you're out. And I guarantee that's all it takes to get you tired."

Sanchez has been used as the third forward behind eight-year veteran Dale Ervine and Rod Castro, a player with seven years of experience. Sanchez filled in for Castro to help the Splash to a 6-3 victory over the Washington Warhogs July 19. And Sanchez will likely be pressed into the starting rotation when Castro leaves for law school this month.

"He has a knack for scoring goals, and you can always use a goal scorer," Fernandez said. "We have two of the top target guys in the league, so it's kind of hard to find him some time. But there's no doubt we have a big future for him and he's in our plans."

Whether or not Sanchez will be in the lineup when the Western Division-leading Splash (13-5) face the Arizona Sandsharks tonight at the America West Arena in Phoenix won't be determined until game time. It's a scenario that has become a familiar and agonizing routine for Sanchez.

"It's frustrating and demoralizing," Sanchez said. Everybody here is fighting for a position and anybody on this team is a potential starter. But play or not play, I'm getting paid and the money I'm making is just like a summer job."

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