- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 25, 2004

D.C. United will meet up with an old friend tonight when it visits Columbus. Tony Sanneh, who played for United in the club’s glory days before leaving for richer pastures in Germany’s top league, recently joined the Crew.

Nicknamed “Big Cat” for his size and agility, the 6-foot-2, 190-pounder returned to Major League Soccer last month after his contract with German team FC Nuremberg expired. This is the first time he will face his old team.

“It’s not my old team anymore,” said Sanneh, who played with United from 1996 to 1998 and will face only two of his old teammates (Jaime Moreno and Ben Olsen) tonight. “The whole organization has changed. Three points is what I’m after and it doesn’t matter who I play.”

A graduate of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Sanneh joined United from the semipro Minnesota Thunder in May 1996. He left the club in early 1999 after signing a deal with Hertha Berlin of the Bundesliga that tripled his MLS salary.

Sanneh has fond memories of his days at United, where he competed in 86 matches, scored 20 goals and helped the club win MLS titles in 1996 and 1997.

“We were a close-knit group back then,” said the soft-spoken midfielder. “We all got along very well, and we had the attitude we could win on any day. It was a given that we were good and someone was always able to step in when help was needed.”

United won the title again in 1999 but has struggled for the last five seasons.

“When you lose almost 11 national team players like Carlos Llamosa, Jeff Agoos, John Harkes, Richie Williams, Tony Sanneh, Eddie Pope, Roy Lassiter — I could go on and on — the team became depleted and it got younger and younger,” Sanneh said. “That’s kind of normal in sports. The players got better and wanted more money.”

Sanneh says his best memory at United was winning the title at RFK Stadium in 1997 before 57,431 fans. But his move to Germany, he said, made him take soccer more seriously.

“It’s a long season over there and you live the game 24 hours a day,” Sanneh explained.

In 2001 he moved from Hertha Berlin, where he once owned a pub, to FC Nuremberg, but a back injury kept him off the team for 15 months.

“I loved Berlin and Nuremberg was OK, but I was away from home for six years and I wanted to get back to my extended family in the Midwest,” Sanneh said.

The St. Paul, Minn., native is known as a two-way player who can be both a tenacious defender and a dangerous fast forward on counterattacks. The brightest moment in his career came at the 2002 World Cup in Asia, where many critics considered Sanneh the best player on the American team. He played as a right-side defender in every minute of the team’s five games, helping the U.S. reach the quarterfinals.

Sanneh has played three games for the U.S. team this year and said he expects to get called up for a World Cup qualifier at El Salvador next month.

Sanneh has made three starts for the Crew, which is the only team to have clinched a playoff spot and is on a 13-game unbeaten run.

Sidekicks — In a surprise move, former United coach Thomas Rongen has been named coach of MLS’s expansion team, CD Chivas USA, which will be based in Los Angeles. …

Manchester United captain Roy Keane has been charged with assault and criminal damage after an incident on a golf course involving a 16-year-old. Meanwhile, Keane’s former teammate, David Beckham, is suing the News Of The World newspaper over an article claiming his marriage to Victoria Beckham is in trouble. …

Hartford Courant writer Jerry Trecker has been named by the National Soccer Hall of Fame as the first recipient of the Colin Jose Media Award.

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