On Friday, January 25, the United State Soccer Federation announced that MLS and US National team veteran Tony Sanneh was eligible for the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
In order to be eligible for election as a player, an individual must be retired as a player for at least three years, but for no more than 10 years and have either: 1) Played in at least 20 international games for the U.S., or 2) Played at least five seasons in an American first division professional league and named to a postseason All-League or All-Star team at least once.
The 41-year-old Sanneh started his youth career playing for the St. Paul Blackhawks club and St. Paul Academy high school team where he was coached by the legendary Buzz Lagos. He went on to play for the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee Panthers. As a forward, he became the school’s all-time scoring leader, with 53 goals and 32 assists from 1990 to 1993.
He then played for both the USISL’s Milwaukee Rampage and Minnesota Thunder from 1994-1996 where he made 42 appearances and scored 32 goals, creating 36 assists. Sanneh’s striker partner with the Rampage was Brian McBride. Little did the two players know, they would strike up a different sort of partnership for the US National Team in the 2002 World Cup.
At the same time Sanneh spent his winter months playing indoor soccer for both the Chicago Power and later the Milwaukee Wave where he made a total of 59 appearances and scored 37 goals.
The St. Paul, Minn. native was then signed in 1996 by DC United of Major League Soccer half way through the league’s inaugural season. Sanneh went on to play for 5 teams in MLS from 1996-2009. At DC United he made 86 appearances and scored 20 goals. He also played for the: Columbus Crew, Chicago Fire, Colorado Rapids and Los Angeles Galaxy.
With DC United, Sanneh scored goals in both the 1996 and 1997 MLS Championship games. The Minnesota native scored in the 72nd minute of 1996 MLS Championship – the goal that started the improbable comeback for DC United’s (and MLS’s) inaugural Championship. United went on to win both Championships and begin the first MLS dynasty. Sanneh, known for coming up big in important games, also scored in the Interamerica Cup final in 1998 where they defeated Vasco da Gama for the title.
With Chicago he helped the Fire win the 2006 US Open Cup.
In MLS, Sanneh retired holding the best winning percentage of all-time for players with over 100 games played. He finished his career in MLS with a .631 win percentage and a 65–36–10 record scoring 22 goals and 27 assists.
Other MLS accomplishments: Played for the Crew in 2004 when the team won the Supporters Shield with the best regular season record, and posted the best undefeated streak in MLS history.
Tony mentored players on the LA Galaxy in 2009, and the Galaxy went from the worst record in over the 5 previous years to MLS Cup finalist in 2009.
Over Sanneh’s MLS career, he played for 2 MLS Cup Championship teams, 2 Cup finalists and 2 US Open Cup Champions.
In 1999 Sanneh was signed by Bundesliga club Hertha BSC. Tony made 31 appearances with Hertha and scored 1 goal. He is remembered by Hertha fans for his assist on Ali Daei’s first Champions League goal in a famous 2-1 victory over European powerhouse Chelsea.
Sanneh eventually moved to FC Nuremberg in 2001. He made 52 appearances for the Bundesliga side and scored 5 goals.
While in Europe, Tony played 6 Champions League matches against the likes of European powers Chelsea, AC Milan, Barcelona (at Camp Nou) and Porto. He became known for his versatility where he played 6 different positions. He also played in numerous UEFA Cup matches against teams like Inter Milan.
Sanneh made his debut with the US National team on January 29, 1997 and was a vital player for the US in qualifiers for the 2002 World Cup. The forward, turned midfielder turned defender played more minutes than any other US player in 2002 qualifiers missing only the final match after the US had already qualified.
From 1997–2005, Sanneh played 43 matches for the US and scored 3 goals, contributing 4 assists and collecting a 18-14-11 record while playing 8 different positions for the Yanks.
Tony was clearly one of the best players on the pitch for the US in the 2002 World Cup held in Japan and South Korea. The US Men’s National Team had its best run in the modern era, making it all the way to the Quarterfinals before losing to Germany 1-0 in controversial fashion. Sanneh became an intricate part of the defense in his right back position but attacked relentlessly as well. Many felt he may have been the best right back in the tournament. The US started out by shocking favorite Portugal 3-2 then tied host South Korea 1-1. Though defeated by Poland the US recovered and triumphed over Mexico 2-0 in a famous Round of 16 win against their southern neighbors. Sanneh played every minute of every game for the US in World Cup 2002 and assisted with a pinpoint cross from the right flank to teammate Brian McBride in the US win against Portugal.
Tony Sanneh currently runs the Sanneh Foundation and its many programs and initiatives including: College Prep 101, Community Outreach, Dreamline Corps, For All Youth Haitian Initiative and Kick it Back.