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Quiet Olympian player makes noise on game day

02/06/2013, 9:49pm PST
By Kevin J. Farmer

Soccer means just about everything to Olympian High’s Branden Sanchez.

Olympian’s Branden Sanchez (in white) moves against Otay Mesa High School in a soccer game last week. Olympian won the first meeting between the two teams and Otay Ranch won the second.

Olympian High School’s Branden Sanchez enjoys playing soccer so much he lives it.

“Soccer is all I think about,” the quiet junior striker admitted. “Not an hour passes when it’s not on my mind.”

You can picture Sanchez walking across the Olympian campus between periods, picking out a seam in the crowd to find his way to the goal. You can see him up at night, thinking where he’ll strike the ball with his powerful left foot to bend it into the corner on a free kick.

“Branden is a very humble and quiet kid, until he’s on the pitch and then he turns into Mr. Hyde,” said Olympian head coach Sergio Villalva. “The scary part is he’s just a junior and hasn’t fully matured as a soccer player – a dream for me, but a nightmare for the rest of the league.”

When you love something so much, you tend to excel at it — and Sanchez does.

Through 16 matches this season Sanchez finds himself as the third leading scorer in all San Diego County with 24 goals and nine assists (56 points). He trails only Steven Velazquez of Maranatha Christian (77 points on 34 goals, 9 assists) and Mt. Carmel’s Michael Griswold (66 points on 27 goals, 12 assists).

Four times this season Sanchez has found the back of the net three times or more in a game. He scored four in the Eagles’ 7-0 win at Mt. Miguel, all three of his team’s goals in wins over El Cajon and Liberty Charter, and another hat trick against Otay Ranch in mid-January.

“Against Otay I got two goals in my first two chances.” said Sanchez, who saw limited varsity action his freshman year at Otay Ranch. “Being against my old school, that felt really good.”

That 4-2 victory over the Mustangs was part of an amazing streak for Sanchez in which he scored 12 goals in five games.

Sanchez, who scored 16 goals as a sophomore for Olympian last year, now has a prominent part in the game-planning of opposing coaches.

“Unfortunately I think the word is out on him,” Villalva said. “He’s seeing double and triple teams all the time.”

“Even if Branden doesn’t score, he creates havoc up on top. He pulls defenders out of their position and creates holes for other players to exploit.”

“It’s getting harder every game,” Sanchez said. “I just have to work harder.”

Sanchez understands great players receive extra attention, just like his record-setting hero Lionel Messi of Barcelona.

“The way he passes and dribbles, he makes it look so easy,” said Sanchez of Messi.

But Sanchez’s style of play is much different from that of the diminutive Argentinian. His tall, slender stature and booming left foot more resemble Manchester United’s Robin van Persie.

Coaches know that left foot and are instructing their defenders on taking it away.

“I just got used to it,” said Sanchez of striking from his left foot. “I didn’t use it so much until the last few years but I’ve had success and got used to it.”

Sanchez first started playing at the age of 4. During his early days he played for the Aztecs, a South Bay Club team. For the past few years he’s played for the San Diego Nomads, arguably the top club team in the county.

“It’s very different playing for Nomads,” he said. “You have college scouts at every game. The intensity of the game is different; you can’t hold the ball.”

A highlight from his time with Nomads was traveling south of the border to play the junior team for the Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles, defending Mexican Premier League champions. He scored in the 3-2 loss.

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