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West Orange Times & Observer Friday, Nov. 19, 2021 2 weeks ago

Athlete of the Week: Leonardo Sanchez

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Dr. Phillips junior has been named captain in his first year of high school soccer.
by: Chris Martucci Sports Editor

Leonardo Sanchez is a junior midfielder on Dr. Phillips’ boys soccer team. Sanchez was born in Caracas, Venezuela, before eventually immigrating to Madrid, Spain. He came to the United States with his family two years ago and has settled in the West Orange area. This is his first year playing for the Panthers and in high school soccer. Even so, he was named team captain prior to the season. Already, the Panthers are 3-1 under his leadership, with wins over Lake Highland Prep and Lake Buena Vista to start the year. 

What was it like growing up in Venezuela? 

It was not easy. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t easy to live there, because of how bad the conditions were and still are. The key to surviving was being united with your family and knowing what you want, what you have to do and what you need. That is the key to everything. 

How big of an adjustment was it to adapt to American life? 

That wasn’t easy, either. It took me a year to learn a little bit of English. I was in a bilingual school in Spain, so I had a bit of a base to learn from. I learned more when I moved here. (Also having to) make new friends, a new house and new living (situation). It wasn’t like living in Spain or Venezuela.

How did you get started in soccer? 

I started when I was 6 or 7 years old after I saw the Real Madrid-FC Barcelona game. Barcelona is my favorite team, and I fell in love with the way they were playing. They looked like they were having fun, so I tried to do the same with my friends. 

What do you like about playing the midfield position? 

You have to be everywhere — defend, attack, shoot. You get to do it all and be everywhere on the field. 

How does it feel to be named captain in your first season with Dr. Phillips? 

It’s amazing; I didn’t expect it because it’s my first year. It’s all new for me. I enjoy it; I try to have fun and keep everyone united as a team. 

What’s your favorite soccer memory? 

When Spain won the World Cup in 2010. It was a tough game for them (in the final against the Netherlands), but they were just having fun and playing the way that they had played the whole tournament. I was at school, and we stayed just to watch the game. Everyone was shocked when they won. 

What are some of your goals for this season?

To win districts and keep the team humble and united. The group I play with is amazing — I love them. I know a lot of them, but we’re all getting to know each other as the season is starting. I know we can do a great job this season. 

Favorite movie? 

The “Harry Potter” series and “Jurassic Park.” 

Favorite TV/Netflix show? 

A Spanish Netflix show called “La Casa de Papel” (Money Heist). It’s amazing. 

Between Spanish and English, which is the hardest language to learn? 

English is more difficult. The Spanish in Venezuela and Spain is the same, but there are some words you don’t use that much in Spain. In Barcelona, Catalonian is different because it features some French words in the way they speak. English is completely different due to all the different slangs and such. 

Favorite American food? 

Hamburgers. My ideal burger is huge with chicken, bacon, cheese, barbecue sauce and tomato. 

Favorite soccer player? 

Xavi — he has everything; the mentality, great passing, a great person who supports everyone no matter what and has a great shot. 

Favorite soccer club? 

FC Barcelona. 

What’s an interesting thing about you that no one would expect to know? 

I don’t like cachapas, a famous dish from Venezuela. 

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you want to go? 

Either China or Japan, because the way they live is so different from us. Plus the food is great, too.

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Chris Martucci is the sports editor for the West Orange Times & Observer,  Southwest Orange Observer and OrangeObserver.com. He holds a master's degree in journalism from the University of Missouri — Columbia School of Journalism, as well as a bachelor's degree in...

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