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USA TODAY

Former Mexican youth international goalkeeper Richard Sanchez sees joining Fire as 'great opportunity'

When Jorge Bava’s elbow injury required season-ending surgery, the Chicago Fire suddenly needed another goalkeeper.

In his place, the Fire signed Richard Sanchez. The 23-year-old is a product of the FC Dallas academy and signed with the club as a homegrown player.

Internationally, Sanchez has represented Mexico at the under-17 and under-20 levels, including El Tri’s triumph in the 2011 U-17 World Cup in Mexico. On the club level, he was most recently under contract with Tigres in Mexico’s Liga MX.

“My contract ended with Tigres over in Monterrey,” Sanchez said. “We didn’t agree to some terms so now my contract runs out and I was a free agent. I was training on my own, kind of doing gym sessions and personal training on my own with some other goalkeeper coach. I also trained with FC Dallas before and was kind of getting ready for whatever was to come.”

What came was Sanchez signing with MLS and going through the league’s allocation process for returning players. It’s one of the more confusing mechanisms in MLS, but the end result was the Fire sending a third round pick in next year’s draft to Portland to move up in the allocation order and then using that spot to sign Sanchez on Aug. 11.

Sanchez said his intention was to come back to MLS to get playing time and experience after his Tigres contract ran out.

“I thought I can grow and look for some minutes and that’s kind of the opportunity that popped up in Chicago,” Sanchez said. “Through the allocation process and the re-entry process of MLS, it’s kind of weird is probably the word that you can use, but hey, it gave me a great opportunity here in Chicago. They picked up my rights so I’m glad to be here and I’m glad to be a part of this team.

“Everybody has been good so I’m just adapting now to the city, to the people here and hoping to help the team.”

Sanchez said he likes coach Veljko Paunovic’s style of focusing on possession and building out of the back. That is what Sanchez said he was used to from his time in Mexico.

Professional minutes have been hard to come by for Sanchez, who didn’t make any appearances for Dallas or Tigres. His only first-team appearances have come on loans to lower tier leagues. Regardless, Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez said he likes Sanchez’s resume and skillset.

“Richard gives us a player who knows the league, who knows pressure moments, who’s experienced in division one football,” Rodriguez said last week. “Whether or not that translates to a longer stay with us, again we’ll have to feel that out a little bit, see how much he likes Chicago and what our program is about and then see if it remains a fit for him.”

Sanchez joins starter Matt Lampson and rookie Stefan Cleveland as the Fire’s goalkeepers. For now, Sanchez is still integrating into the team and the system, but if he impresses enough he could be competing for playing time next year.

“Obviously you want to compete for the job and what they look for is that competitiveness within the group so of course I think that’s the expectation they have for me is to bring some good competition within this group, add to what they’ve already built up to this moment and in my case, a goalkeeper’s case, just help out Lampson and Stefan to be better," Sanchez said. "That’s kind of what I’m here for.”