After leading SIUE men’s soccer to its most successful season since returning to NCAA Division I competition, Head Coach Mario Sanchez returns to the sidelines for his third season at the helm. In 2017, SIUE advanced to the Sweet 16 of the College Cup, dispatching No. 13 Michigan State and No. 11 Butler on its way to the third round. The Cougars fell to eventual national runner-up Wake Forest 2-1.
In 2016, Sanchez and his staff will lead SIUE into its first season of competition in the Mid-American Conference (MAC). The Cougars were announced as affiliate members in June.
The trip to the 2016 NCAA Tournament, the 15th Division I appearance and 23rd overall NCAA appearance, came on the heels of SIUE’s second Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship.
The Cougars finished the year with a 10-5-7 record, marking the second consecutive year SIUE finished with at least 10 wins and the third double-digit win season in the past five years. The Cougars enjoyed a 14-game unbeaten streak from Sept. 28 until the loss to Wake Forest.
SIUE finished at No. 5 in the NCAA in save percentage (.845) and 16th nationally in goals against average (0.71). The Cougars also led the MVC in attendance and were 41st nationally with an average of 846 fans per contest.
At season’s end, the Cougars were ranked in the top 25 in three national polls. SIUE checked in at No. 15 in TopDrawerSoccer.com, No. 20 in CollegeSoccerNews.com and at No. 22 in the NSCAA poll. SIUE finished with an RPI of 48, which was second-best in the MVC
Under the guidance of Sanchez, defender Austin Ledbetter had a standout senior season. The defender was chosen as the Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in the MVC. He was a first team All-West Region choice and became the fourth SIUE player in the last three years to be chosen the Major League Soccer SuperDraft when he was selected with the 53rd overall pick by FC Dallas.
Forward Devyn Jambga (2nd team) and goalkeeper Kyle Dal Santo (3rd team) joined Ledbetter on the All-Region team. Jambga (first team) and Dal Santo (2nd team) as well as six other Cougars were chosen for All-MVC honors following the regular season.
In 2015, Sanchez led SIUE to its first MVC regular season title. The Cougars finished 5-1 in the MVC and 12-4-2 overall. The 12 wins were the most for a first-year head coach in program history, and the second-most wins for the program since returning to Division I in 2008.
Sanchez and his coaching staff were chosen as the MVC’s Coaching Staff of the Year following the season.
While serving as tournament hosts for the first time, SIUE made its second consecutive and fourth overall appearance in the MVC Tournament championship game in 2015, before falling to Drake 1-0
SIUE proved to be a force on both sides of the ball during Sanchez’s inaugural season. The team goals against average of 0.68 ranked second in the MVC and eighth in all of Division I. Only Loyola, which had the nation’s stingiest defense (0.39 GAA) rated higher in the conference. Offensively, SIUE netted 26 goals over the course of the season, ranking second in the Valley to Drake’s 32. The Cougars averaged 1.44 goals per game, which also was second in the league.
SIUE’s final RPI ranking of 38 in 2015 was the best in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Several individuals enjoyed standout campaigns under Sanchez’s tutelage. Defender Justin Bilyeu became SIUE’s second consecutive first round draft pick when he was chosen by the New York Red Bulls with the 18th overall pick in the Major League Soccer SuperDraft.
Bilyeu was one of three players to earn All-Region honors. He was an honorable mention selection, joining Austin Ledbetter (first team) and Jabari Danzy (second team).
That trio joined six other players in earning All-MVC awards. Ledbetter and Danzy were selected to the first team while Bilyeu joined fellow defender Brett Lane, goalkeeper Kyle Dal Santo, forward Devyn Jambga and midfielders Ivan Gutierrez and Paul Scheipeter on the league’s second team. Midfielder Keegan McHugh was an honorable mention and All-Freshman team selection.
Sanchez was hired as the seventh head coach in program history in January 2015 following a stint as the associate head coach at Louisville.
Sanchez succeeded co-Head Coaches David Korn and Brian Jones who guided SIUE to the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2014.
At Louisville, Sanchez worked with Head Coach Ken Lolla. Prior to joining the staff at Louisville, Sanchez spent four seasons as the head coach at UNLV. Sanchez previously worked under Lolla for three seasons on the Akron staff.
The 1999 graduate of Fresno State began his coaching career at his alma mater as an assistant coach from 1999 to 2003 before the school eliminated its men’s soccer program.
With Sanchez on staff, Louisville made five consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, advancing to at least the second round in each appearance. In 2010, the Cardinals made their only College Cup Final appearance during Sanchez’s first season on the bench, where the team, ironically, bowed out to Akron 1-0. The Louisville staff was recognized as the Co-Big East Conference Coaching Staff of the Year. Sanchez was tabbed as a top assistant by College Soccer News.
In 2014, the Cardinals were a No. 13 seed and earned a bye to the second round. U of L defeated Saint Louis 2-1 before falling to Maryland-Baltimore County 1-0. The Cardinals, in just their first season in the Atlantic Coast Conference, advanced to the ACC Tournament title game where they lost 2-1, in overtime, to Clemson.
Louisville earned NCAA quarterfinal appearances in 2011 and 2012.
While the head coach at UNLV, Sanchez transformed the Rebels into one of the top programs in the west. He guided the 2009 team to its first winning record in nearly a decade and a semifinal appearance in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) tournament.
During his time at Akron, the Zips won two Mid-American Conference regular season titles and two tournament titles. Akron made three NCAA tournament appearances, advancing to the third round in 2003.
In addition to team success, Sanchez has coached student-athletes to great individual success as well. At Louisville, Sanchez has coached several All-Americans, a pair of Big East Defenders of the Year and a Big East Rookie of the Year. In 2013, he coached the American Conference Defender of the Year. During his time there, Louisville had 12 Major League Soccer draft picks. At UNLV he coached the MPSF Rookie of the Year, who also was a Freshman All-American. In all, 21, players have gone on to play professional soccer after playing under Sanchez.
Outside of the college ranks, Sanchez is involved with the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) and has been since 2006. He served as the West Region Olympic Development Program (ODP) head coach from 2006 to 2009. He has been an assistant coach with the U17 National team on three different occasions, most recently at the Copa de Mexico tournament in August 2014. He also has served as a national scout for USSF since 2012.
As a player, Sanchez was a four-year starter and two-time captain at Fresno State. Playing from 1993 to 1997, Sanchez earned All-Far West Region honors in 1995 and 1997. He was the Bulldogs’ Team Most Valuable Player in each of those two seasons. Sanchez played for the national champion Central Coast Roadrunners in the United Soccer League from 1996-97 and was a third round draft choice in the MLS by the Kansas City Wizards in 1998. Sanchez played for Orange County Zodiac (1999) and Stanislaus Cruisers (2001) in the USL Professional Division.
Sanchez earned a bachelor’s in business administration from Fresno State. He holds a USSF ‘A’ License. Sanchez is married to the former Shana Stickel. The couple has four children: sons Sebastian and Santiago, and daughters Ella and Emme.